IEET > Vision > Former > Futurism > Technoprogressivism
A Superlative Schema of Critiques of Transcendentalized Technology
Dale Carrico   Oct 27, 2007   Amor Mundi  

Believing that our technology will become, or make us, god-like is fundamentally undemocratic. We need to remain critical of this transcendentalizing tendency in techno-utopian discourse in order to work towards real liberatory uses of technology.

In the first piece I wrote critiquing Superlative Technology Discourse a few years ago, Transformation Not Transcendence,” I wrote that

It pays to recall that theologians never have been able comfortably to manage the reconciliation of the so-called omnipredicates of an infinite God. Just when they got a handle on the notion of omnipotence, they would find it impinging on omniscience. If nothing else, the capacity to do anything would seem to preclude the knowledge of everything in advance. And of course omnibenevolence never played well with the other predicates. How to reconcile the awful with the knowledge of it and the power to make things otherwise is far from an easy thing, after all… As with God, so too with a humanity become Godlike. Any “posthuman” conditions we should find ourselves in will certainly be, no less than the human ones we find ourselves in now, defined by their finitude.  This matters, if for no other reason, because it reminds us that we will never transcend our need of one another.


My point in saying this was to highlight the incoherence in principle of the superlative imaginary, to spotlight what looks to me like the deep fear of finitude and contingency (exacerbated, no doubt, by the general sense that we are all of us caught up in an especially unsettling and unpredictable technoscientific storm-churn) that drives this sort of hysterical transcendental turn, and to propose in its stead a deeper awareness and celebration of our social, political, and cultural inter-dependence with one another to cope with and find meaning in the midst of this change. 

Of course, there is no question that no technology, however superlative, could deliver literally omni-predicated capacities, nor is it immediately clear even how these omni-predicates might function as regulative ideals given their basic incoherence (although this sort of incoherence hasn’t seemed to keep “realists” from claiming interminably that vacuous word-world correspondences function as regulative ideals governing warranted assertions concerning instrumental truth, so who knows?).  Rather like the facile faith of a child who seeks to reconcile belief with sense by imagining an unimaginable God as an old man with a long beard in a stone chair, Superlativity would reconcile the impossible omnipredicated ends at which it aspires with the terms of actual possibility through a comparable domestication: of Omniscience into “Superintelligence,” of Omnipotence into “Superlongevity,” of Omnibenevolence into “Superabundance.” 

In such Superlative Technology Discourses, it will always be the disavowed discourse of the omnipredicated term that mobilizes the passion of Superlative Technocentricities and organizes the shared identifications at the heart of Sub(cult)ural Futurisms, meanwhile it will be the terms of worldly discourses that provide all the substance on which these Superlative discourses finally depend for their actual sense: Superintelligence will have no substance apart from Warranted Knowledge, Superlongevity will have no substance apart from Consensual Healthcare, Superabundance will have no substance apart from Commonwealth.  In each case a worldly substantial reality—and a reality substantiated peer-to-peer at that—is instrumentalized, hyper-individualized, de-politicized via Superlativity in the service of a transcendental project re-activating the omni-predicates of the theological imaginary. 

As with most fundamentalisms—that is to say, as with all transcendental projects that redirect their energies to political ends to which they are categorically unsuited—when Superlativity shows the world its Sub(cult)ural “organizational” face, it is the face of moralizing, the confusion of the work of mores with that of politics, a misbegotten effort to impose the terms of private moral or esthetic perfection with the terms of public ethics (which formally solicits universal assent to normative prescriptions), politics (which seeks to reconcile the incompatible aspirations of a diversity of peers who share the world), and science (which provisionally attract consensus to instrumental descriptions).

Very Schematically, I am proposing these correlations:

OMNI-PREDICATED THEOLOGICAL / TRANSCENDENTAL DISCOURSE

Omniscience
Omnipotence
Omnnibenevolence

SUPER-PREDICATED SUPERLATIVE DISCOURSE

Superintelligence
Superlongevity
Superabundance

WORDLY SUBSTANTIAL (p2p) DISCOURSE

Warranted Assertibility (or just Warrant)
Consensual Healthcare (or just Consent)
Commonwealth (or just Commons)

On one hand the Super-Predicated term in a Superlative Technology Discourse disavows, and deranges, while depending on, the collaboratively substantiated term in a Worldly Discourse correlated with it, while on the other hand activating the passions and idealizations of the Omni-Predicated term in a Transcendental Discourse correlated with it.  The pernicious effects of these shifts are instrumental, ethical, and political in the main, but quite various in their specificities. 

That complexity accounts for all the ramifying dimensions of the Superlativity Critique one finds in the texts collected in my Superlative Summary at this point.  I would like to think one discerns in my Technoprogressive formulations some sense of what more technoscientifically literate and democratically invested worldly programmatic alternatives to Superlativity might look like.  In these writings, I try to delineate a perspective organized by a belief in technoethical pluralism, on an insistence on a substantiated rather than vacuous scene of informed, nonduressed consent, on the consensualization of non-normative experimental medicine (as an elaboration of the commitment to a politics of Choice) and the diversity of lifeways arising from these consensual practices, on the ongoing implementation of sustainable, resilient, experimentalist, open, multicultural, cosmopolitan models of civilization, on the celebration and subsidization of peer-to-peer formations of expressivity, criticism, credentialization, and the collaborative solution of shared problems, and, through these values and for them, a deep commitment to the ongoing democratization of technodevelopmental social struggle, using technology to deepen democracy, using democracy to ensure that technology benefits us all (as Amor Mundi’s slogan puts the point). 

There simply is no need to join a marginal Robot Cult as either a True Believer or would-be guru to participate in technodevelopmental social struggle peer-to-peer. There is no need to assume the perspective of a would-be technocratic elite. There is nothing gained in identifying with an ideology that you hope will “sweep the world” or provide the “keys to history.” There is nothing gained in claiming to be “pro-technology” or “anti-technology” at a level of generality at which no technologies actually exist. There is nothing gained in foreswearing the urgencies of today for an idealized and foreclosed future nor in dis-identifying with your human peers so as to better identify with imaginary post-human ones. There is nothing gained in the consolations of faith when there is so much valuable, actual work to do, when there are so many basic needs to fulfill, when there is so much pleasure and danger in the world of our peers at hand. There is nothing gained by an alliance with incumbent interests to secure a place in the future when these incumbents are exposed now as having no power left but the power to destroy the world and the future altogether. 

The Superlative Technology Critique is not finally a critique about technology, after all, because it recognizes that “technology” is functioning as a surrogate term in these discourses it critiques, the evocation of “technology” functions symptomatically in these discourses and sub(cult)ures.  The critique of Superlativity is driven first of all by commitments to democracy, diversity, equity, sustainability, and substantiated consent.  I venture to add, it is driven by a commitment to basic sanity, sanity understood as a worldly and present concern itself.  The criticisms I seem to be getting are largely from people who would either deny the relevance of my own political, social, and cultural emphasis altogether (a denial that likely marks them as unserious as far as I’m concerned) or who disapprove of my political commitment to democracy, my social commitment to commons, and my cultural commitment to planetary multiculture (a disapproval that likely marks them as reactionaries as far as I’m concerned).  There is much more for me to say in this vein, and of course I will continue to do so as best I can, and everyone is certainly free and welcome to contribute to or to disdain my project as you will, but I am quite content with the focus my Critique has assumed so far and especially by the enormously revealing responses it seems to generate.

Dale Carrico Ph.D. was a fellow of the IEET from 2004 to 2008 and is a lecturer in the Department of Rhetoric at the University of California at Berkeley.



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