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Technoprogressivism Under Trump
J. Hughes   Nov 11, 2016   Ethical Technology  

This is from an interview I gave yesterday to a French journalist. Thought you might be interested.

Question 1: Technoprogressivism requires, on some level, a willingness to engage with data and reason. Does that disqualify it as a political movement right out of the gate?

Technoprogressivism is the application of Left Enlightenment values to contemporary technopolitics. The Left Enlightenment, like the Scottish Enlightenment, emphasizes the importance of reason, empiricism and science as both epistemology (the best way to know things) and as an engine of progress. The CounterEnlightenment has always objected that reason and empiricism violate some deeper truths which are only accessible through intuition and faith. The progress of Enlightenment values has been slow but steady. Nonetheless there are periods of retrenchment, and the current hegemony in America of politicians who reject realities like climate change is hopefully as temporary as the hegemony of evolution-deniers was previously.

Question 2: You describe an “insular futurist subculture.” How did that arise and are the people within it ready to engage in a more mainstream debate?

All subcultures tend towards insularity. There are technical languages and assumptions about the world that one gets tired of having to constantly explain and defend. In futurism, for instance, we are very focused on the consequences of the advent of powerful artificial intelligence, and many scenarios, from utopian to apocalyptic, have been considered for decades. In the broader world, and in the public policy communities in particular, those scenarios are considered science fiction. The mission of technoprogressives and the IEET is to consciously work to reach out and bridge these gaps, pointing futurists to relevant public policy debates, regulatory initiatives, and legislation that they often are ignorant of, and to point public policy makers to the emerging technologies and social issues that they need to begin grappling with. An example has been the idea that technological unemployment is inevitable and that a basic income guarantee is the best response to a jobless future. Acceptance of the scenario and policy is much broader in the futurist and technology cultures, and is only now being taken seriously in policy circles.

Question 3: What do you see as the main tenants of technoprogressivism right now? Do you think they are subject to change?

Since the broad outlines of the perspective were sketched out two hundred years ago, those are unlikely to change, at least until human nature fundamentally changes. However there are ongoing debates over how to apply those values - liberty, equality, solidarity, reason and progress - to new technologies. And when human nature does begin to change under the impact of technologies, then the values themselves may need to adapt.

Question 4: Transprogressivism currently feels more like a school of thought than a movement. Do you have thoughts on how it can make the transition?

I call it an “ideological tendency,” one that can be found as a strain of pro-technology thought in progressive politics for the last two hundred years. We can find it popping up in feminism, environmentalism, disability rights, civil rights, and left economics. Getting these diverse voices to understand that they have something in common and to begin acting in concert is the project. More like feminism or conservatism than Marxism, there will be no one defining technoprogressive text or ideologue, but a political coalescence interacting with events. For instance, people arguing for responsible acceptance of human genetic engineering may begin to find themselves on the same side of issues and making the same arguments as those defending experiments in geoengineering, or the use of nanomedicine. We need to keep laying the intellectual groundwork for the emergence of a mass technoprogressive politics, the way the Fabians helped birth the Labour movement. Then, predictably, some series of unpredictable events will present opportunities to define struggles as “technoprogressive” and hopefully build a movement.


Question 5: You said in your last email that a Trump presidency might affect the IEET’s agenda moving forward. How so?

We see the political space as three dimensional - cultural politics, economic politics, and technopolitics. So on both the anti-technology and pro-technology end of politics there are at least four types of political points of view - Right (economically and culturally conservative), populist/fascist, social democratic, and libertarian.  For instance, there are many leftists who are as critical of emerging technologies as people in the religious Right, and there are people enthusiastic about emerging technologies with radically opposing politics. Many assume that the dominant politics of the technology subculture is libertarian - anti-egalitarian and anti-regulatory, as well as feminist, sexually liberal, secular and so on. In fact my research has found that there are at least as many social democratic technophiles as libertarian ones.  The IEET emerged partly to give voice to the technoprogressive, or Left technophile, point of view in order to balance the hegemonic influence of the libertarian viewpoint coming from Silicon Valley billionaires.

Now we have a new threat to contend with, the populist or fascist technophiles, like Peter Thiel and Newt Gingrich. The Trump regime and GOP control of American politics, and its connection to Putin’s support for a global network of far right parties, suggests that technoprogressives may need to set aside struggles against the libertarians and Left Luddites to work in a Popular Front against the fascist threat. We still have different ideologies and strategic ends, and we need to do the work to define them, but defending women’s rights, LGBT rights, immigrants and civil freedom against Trumpism, Putinism, jihadism and the other forces of the far right is more pressing. Once the far right threat recedes then we need to proceed to the establishment of the regulatory controls on dangerous technologies that the libertarians resist, and to the expansion of programs of universal access and economic security that the libertarians oppose.

On the other hand, the technoprogressive analysis is that the Luddite Left has offered a flawed, uninspiring vision of the future, compared to the bright but empty promises of the right-wing hucksters, while the libertarian and apolitical futurists and technophiles have contributed to the widespread suspicion that technological progress will only benefit the rich and powerful. The technoprogressive vision of progress is one that can address the anti-elite anxieties that have led to the far right rise, and an inspiring vision of the things human beings can accomplish. So we have to work strategically to advance the technoprogressive vision even as we seek opportunities for anti-fascist coalitions.

James Hughes Ph.D., the Executive Director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, is a bioethicist and sociologist who serves as the Associate Provost for Institutional Research, Assessment and Planning for the University of Massachusetts Boston. He is author of Citizen Cyborg and is working on a second book tentatively titled Cyborg Buddha. From 1999-2011 he produced the syndicated weekly radio program, Changesurfer Radio. (Subscribe to the J. Hughes RSS feed)



COMMENTS

Trump’s victory means that the Democratic party—or some other party—will have to run better candidates in the future. In the 2020 election cycle, for instance (which begins in New Hampshire about 40 months from now) the opposition could run a candidate for president who could make everyone proud.
Hillary brought too much baggage with her; and to expect America to be interested in an elderly socialist from Vermont, is quixotic.

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