- @ClubOfINFO — Rather than location, education or privilege, having something to offer seems to now be the only determining factor for a writer or activist to be published and gain a voice internationally.
As a student, I initially chose postgraduate study as a route to publishing nonfiction and becoming a political scientist, but I never accessed the necessary funding to start this. After graduating from Lancaster University in 2012 and not being able to become the academic I wanted to be, I have found that postgraduate study is unnecessary to become a nonfiction author or even a political theorist.
There are many alternative media options, especially thanks to the internet. So, since March 2013, I have had work published in well over 40 different publications and the number is growing.
Rather than being a cheap alternative, publishing in online magazines is actually a more effective way of gaining recognition and a strong publishing history than academic publishing. It also takes less time and effort, and you achieve more rewards along the way. As such, the internet has truly overcome the need for educated elites in the old-fashioned sense, since anyone with sufficient knowledge and background is now positioned to gain recognition and have their say.
For some months now, I have been a member of the Lifeboat Foundation. This US-based scientific think tank includes many eminent futurists, including Google’s Ray Kurzweil, and is a credible and influential source of much revolutionary thinking about science, technology and politics. I got invited to this think tank and I continue to contribute to it, despite that I live in the UK and have never travelled to the United States.
Because I have also been writing science fiction for years, my futurist publishing success has provided a valuable means of exploring and attracting interest to ideas I might use in that fiction. It serves to add to the conversation on science and technology, if sci-fi authors can write works with powerful and relevant themes. The link between science fiction, scientific discovery and engineering is far greater than many predict, making artistic or cultural perspectives valuable for influencing science and ethics.
My interest is drawn mainly to what I call the crossroads of politics and technology. Part of this interest comes down to the fact that alternate media is transforming politics, aided by the internet, and this has been instrumental in my own success. This very same interest has led me to launch ClubOfINFO (clubof.info), a new biweekly webzine I am editing from Wigan. This publication occupies a niche for offbeat politics and science articles, activism-savvy product recommendations and sci-fi eBook downloads. I highly recommend a visit to this publication, and subscription is free (follow on Twitter @ClubOfINFO).
Much like the World Wide Web, I believe we can expect many other highly democratic world-changing technologies, and they are set to fundamentally change society. These have been of greatest interest to me, and I have written on what I consider to be the most socially and politically significant technologies. Contributing to the futurist h+ Magazine and the progressive Institute for Emerging Technologies think tank, I have put forward articles praising the potential social and political revolutions resulting from advances in 3D printing, synthetic biology, nanotechnology and other key developments.
Among the work I have published are some of the best in-depth reviews available for consequential books, such as Julian Assange’s Cypherpunks. In this book, Assange eerily predicts a bleak future of “total surveillance” even speaking prior to the shocking revelations of warrantless email and phone interception from whistle-blower Edward Snowden. However, he also acknowledges the possibility of a more favourable outcome: the emergence of a “rebel elite”, a tech-savvy global society of activists and experts who know how to restrain and counter the might of governments bent on using technology for repression and domestic spying. Assange’s book is exactly the kind of work that stimulates the discussion that should be happening all over the world, addressing how exponentially improving technology and the democratization of that technology can empower common citizens against their governments. It is the essence of the crossroads of politics and technology.
My own view of where to go on the crossroads of politics and technology is not important, but I am dedicated to exploring possibilities. Increasingly, users improvise new uses for technology that were not thought of or conceived by the designers themselves. The more rapidly our technology evolves, as depicted repeatedly in trends celebrated by futurists, the less control monolithic companies and governments have over how it will ultimately be used. Depending on your point of view, this may be either worrying or exhilarating. In the grand scheme of things, it cannot be stopped, and people should instead be thinking about how society can adapt to the inevitable change.
It is possible to build a community of internet-based thinkers and activists who are not intellectual snobs, but who have online publishing and political credentials, are trusted by their readers and taken seriously by their opponents. I encourage writers at every level of society to be bold in tackling political subjects and talking about how new science and technology can alter politics or the whole future of civilization. This is the goal I hope to promote with projects such as ClubOfINFO, and it is fully in line with the activities of tens of influential similar publications like h+ Magazine.
For people who believe they have something decisive to offer to futurist discussions about where technology is carrying society and the state, there is no reason to defer to academics and self-proclaimed experts. Everyone’s interests should be taken into consideration, and all should take part in what should be the most democratic explosion in history.
One of the most common anti-Transhumanist tropes one finds recurring throughout Transhumanist rhetoric is our supposedly rampant hubris. Hubris is an ancient Greek concept meaning excess of pride that carries connotations of reckless vanity and heedless self-absorbment, often to the point of carelessly endangering the welfare of others in the process. It paints us in a selfish and dangerous light, as though we were striving for the technological betterment of ourselves alone and the improvement of the human condition solely as it pertains to ourselves, so as to be enhanced relative to the majority of humanity.
In no way is this correct or even salient. I, and the majority of Transhumanists, Techno-Progressives and emerging-tech-enthusiasts I would claim, work toward promoting beneficial outcomes and deliberating the repercussions and most desirable embodiments of radically-transformative technologies for the betterment of all mankind first and foremost, and only secondly for ourselves if at all.
The ired irony of this situation is that the very group who most often hails the charge of Hubris against the Transhumanist community is, according to the logic of hubris, more hubristic than those they rail their charge against. Bio-Luddites, and more generally Neo-Luddites, can be clearly seen to be more self-absorbed and recklessly-selfish than the Transhumanists they are so quick to raise qualms against.
The logic of this conclusion is simple: Transhumanists seek merely to better determine the controlling circumstances and determining conditions of our own selves, whereas Neo-Luddites seek to determine such circumstances and conditions (even if using a negative definition, i.e., the absence of something) not only for everyone besides themselves alive at the moment, but even for the unquantable multitudes of minds and lives still fetal in the future.
We do not seek to radically transform Humanity against their will; indeed, this is so off the mark as to be antithetical to the true Transhumanist impetus — for we seek to liberate their wills, not leash or lash them. We seek to offer every human alive the possibility of transforming themselves more effectively according to their own subjective projected objectives; of actualizing and realizing themselves; ultimately of determining themselves for themselves. We seek to offer every member of Humanity the choice to better choose and the option for more optimal options: the self not as final-subject but as project-at-last.
Neo-Luddites, on the other hand, wish to deny the whole of humanity that choice. They actively seek the determent, relinquishment or prohibition of technological self-transformation, and believe in the heat of their idiot-certainty that they have either the intelligence or the right to force their own preference upon everyone else, present and future. Such lumbering, oafish paternalism patronizes the very essence of Man, whose only right is to write his own and whose only will is to will his own – or at least to vow that he will will his own one fateful yet fate-free day.
We seek solely to choose ourselves, and to give everyone alive and yet-to-live the same opportunity: of choice. Neo-Luddites seek not only to choose for themselves but to force this choice upon everyone else as well.
If any of the original Luddites were alive today, perhaps they would loom large to denounce the contemporary caricature of their own movement and rail their tightly-spooled rage against the modern Neo-Luddites that use Ludd’s name in so reckless a threadbare fashion. At the heart of it they were trying to free their working-class fellowship. There would not have been any predominant connotations of extending the distinguishing features of the Luddite revolt into the entire future, no hint of the possibility that they would set a precedent which would effectively forestall or encumber the continuing advancement of technology at the cost of the continuing betterment of humanity.
Who were they to intimate that continuing technological and methodological growth and progress would continually liberate humanity in fits and bounds of expanding freedom to open up the parameters of their possible actions — would free choice from chance and make the general conditions of being continually better and better? If this sentiment were predominant during 1811–1817, perhaps they would have lain their hammers down. They were seeking the liberation of their people after all; if they knew that their own actions might spawn a future movement seeking to dampen and deter the continual technological liberation of Mankind, perhaps they would have remarked that such future Neo-Luddites missed their point completely.
Perhaps the salient heart of their efforts was not the relinquishment of technology but rather the liberation of their fellow man. Perhaps they would have remarked that while in this particular case technological relinquishment coincided with the liberation of their fellow man, that this shouldn’t be heralded as a hard rule. Perhaps they would have been ashamed of the way in which their name was to be used as the nametag and figurehead for the contemporary fight against liberty and Man’s autonomy. Perhaps Ludd is spinning like a loom in his grave right now.
Does the original Luddites’ enthusiasm for choice and the liberation of his fellow man supersede his revolt against technology? I think it does. The historical continuum of which Transhumanism is but the contemporary leading-tip encompasses not only the technological betterment of self and society but the non-technological as well. Historical Utopian ventures and visions are valid antecedents of the Transhumanist impetus just as Techno-Utopian historical antecedents are. While the emphasis on technology predominant in Transhumanist rhetoric isn’t exactly misplaced (simply because technology is our best means of affecting and changing self and society, whorl and world, and thus our best means of improving it according to subjective projected objectives as well) it isn’t a necessary precondition, and its predominance does not preclude the inclusion of non-technological attempts to improve the human condition as well.
The dichotomy between knowledge and device, between technology and methodology, doesn’t have a stable ontological ground in the first place. What is technology but embodied methodology, and methodology but internalized technology? Language is just as unnatural as quantum computers in geological scales of time. To make technology a necessary prerequisite is to miss the end for the means and the mark for a lark. The point is that we are trying to consciously improve the state of self, society and world; technology has simply superseded methodology as the most optimal means of accomplishing that, and now constitutes our best means of effecting our affectation.
The original Luddite movement was less against advancing technology and more about the particular repercussions that specific advancements in technology (i.e. semi-automated looms) had on their lives and circumstances. To claim that Neo-Luddism has any real continuity-of-impetus with the original Luddite movement that occurred throughout 1811–1817 may actually be antithetical to the real motivation underlying the original Luddite movement – namely the liberation of the working class. Indeed, Neo-Luddism itself, as a movement, may be antithetical to the real impetus of the initial Luddite movement both for the fact that they are trying to impose their ideological beliefs upon others (i.e. prohibition is necessarily exclusive, whereas availability of the option to use a given technology is non-exclusive and forces a decision on no one) and because they are trying to prohibit the best mediator of Man’s ever-increasing self-liberation – namely technological growth.
Support for these claims can be found in the secondary literature. For instance, in Luddites and Luddism Kevin Binfield sees the Luddite movement as an expression of worker-class discontent during the Napoleonic Wars than having rather than as an expression of antipathy toward technology in general or toward advancing technology as general trend (Binfield, 2004).
And in terms of base-premises, it is not as though Luddites are categorically against technology in general; rather they are simply against either a specific technology, a specific embodiment of a general class of technology, or a specific degree of technological sophistication. After all, most every Luddite alive wears clothes, takes antibiotics, and uses telephones. Legendary Ludd himself still wanted the return of his manual looms, a technology, when he struck his first blow. I know many Transhumanists and Technoprogressives who still label themselves as such despite being weary of the increasing trend of automation.
This was the Luddites’ own concern: that automation would displace manual work in their industry and thereby severely limit their possible choices and freedoms, such as having enough discretionary income to purchase necessities. If their government were handing out guaranteed basic income garnered from taxes to corporations based on the degree with which they replace previously-manual labor with automated labor, I’m sure they would have happily lain their hammers down and laughed all the way home. Even the Amish only prohibit specific levels of technological sophistication, rather than all of technology in general.
In other words no one is against technology in general, only particular technological embodiments, particular classes of technology or particular gradations of technological sophistication. If you’d like to contest me on this, try communicating your rebuttal without using the advanced technology of cerebral semiotics (i.e. language).
Binfield, K. (2004). Luddites and Luddism. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
It is all too easy to assume that techno-optimists and techno-pessimists are diametrically opposed. But while they may have different destinations in mind, the road to get there – what they need to do to achieve their respective ends – is a shared one. Techno-optimists, Techno-progressives, Techno-gaians and Techno-utopians express hope and passion for technologies’ liberating and empowering potentials, while techno-pessimists are fearful of their dystopic and dehumanizing potentials. Optimists want to spread awareness of the ways in which technology can improve self and society, while pessimists seek to spread awareness of the ways in which technology can make matters worse. Techno-criticism is the neutral middle, where the unbiased study of culture and technology take place, and so should not be confused with Techno-pessimism.
But they both agree on the underlying premise that technologies can and likely will have profoundly transformative effects on self and society. They agree not only that we have the power to shape the outcomes such technologies can foster, that we have the power to affect and to a large extent determine the ultimate embodiment and repercussions of such technologies, but also that such technologies impel us to make concerted efforts towards determining such repercussions and embodiments! It may not look that way from the inside-out, but they are fighting to realize their vision of Humanity’s brightest future. Until we reach the day when the majority of humanity has extensively acknowledged the expansive power such transformative technologies hold, Techno-optimists & Techno-pessimists, Transhumanists & Luddites, and Revolutionaries & Revivalists alike are on the same side! Both camps are on a campaign to alert planet earth of the titanic transformations rushing foreforth upon its horizon. Both agree on the underlying potential such technologies hold for changing the world and the self – whether encased as Prized Present or in Pandora’s Box – and both are weary for the world to wake up and smell the rising.
And besides, we’re all in it together, no? At least Techno-pessimists are thinking about such issues, and putting forth their appraisals. At least they’ve begun to consider what is at stake. Is a techno-pessimist closer to a Technoprogressive or Transhumanist than one who doesn’t take a stance either way is? Maybe.
Not that the likes of Leon Kass, Francis Fukuyama and other Neo-Luddites, Developmental Critics, or Anarcho-Primitivists are to be heralded or left to lie without rebuttal. Their pessimism still does cause palpable harm, as in the delays in Stem-Cell research caused by G.W. Bush’s “President’s Council on Bioethics” evidenced. Thus we shouldn’t simply smile politely and let them on their merry way… But neither should we automatically jump to out-snuff their wild-fires of panic. We should instead let them whip up their frenzies, but be there waiting in the wings to attest for Icarus’s insight, and to offer Prometheus a light. Let them have their say, because it increases public awareness of the cause, because it clues people in to the fact that there many dangers are possible with these technologies (even if we disagree on the nature and extent of those dangers), but be sure to be there waiting, ready to refute their specific and untenable solutions, and not their call for fear in the first place. We are right to simultenaciously fear and hope for technology’s powerful potential. But considering that both Neo-Luddites and Neohumanists alike agree on the transformative and world-whirling capabilities of such technologies, is it more likely that we can take them in hand and shape the course of their eventual realization by outright relinquishment, or by taking advantage of those very transformative potentialities so as to increase our ability to shape them, in a self-recursive feedback loop fitting for Man, the Homoautofabber?
The very beliefs that Neo-Luddism share with Technoprogressivism and Transhumanism constitute one of the best reasons for arguing that their specific approach – outright relinquishment more often than not, or at least curtailing and slowing of development in certain areas to so large an extent that it shouldn’t even be called Differential Technological Development – is an untenable one. They seek to point out the massively transformative potential of technology, and then use this as an excuse to mitigate their dangers and ameliorate their potential downfalls. We should take their approach, pat them on the back (not too heartily, of course) for their starting point, and then flip the course around. We seek to point out the massively transformative potential of technology, but instead of arguing that the transformative potentialities of such technologies justifies their relinquishment, we should instead argue that those same transformative potentialities actually increase our potential to successfully shape their outcome and mitigate their potentially problematizing aspects!
What are the chances that as soon as it becomes possible to use technology in massively immoral ways, we also gain the ability to shape and determine the parameters of our own moralities — and through the very technologies that created the potential problems in the first place, no less? What are the chances that as soon as technology seems to be building upon itself in an unending upward avalanche of momentous momentum, we also gain — through the use of those very same technologies — the ability to better forecast cascading causes and effects into the postmost outpost and to better track trends into the forward-flitting future? The technologies that hold such transformative potential are neither good nor bad, but morally ambiguous. They have the power to spiral out of control, to be strung as leash or noose around humanity’s neck — but they also have the potential to increase our degree self-determination and our control — or our degree of choice — over the circumstances and capabilities afforded by our environments.
A closed circle can seem like just that, until adding a vertical dimension reveals that it was an upward spiral all along. We’ve turned upon ourselves to find (or perhaps just refine) ourselves at least once before, when meat went meta and matter turned upon itself to make mind. Perhaps this was but echoes through time of that final feedback for forward freedom we stand to face, upright and with eyes sun-undaunted, in a future so near that it might as well be here, where the fat of fate is now kindled anew to light our own spindled fires aspiring ever higher, into parts and selves wholly unknown — and holier for it.
Techno-pessimists, Neo-Luddites, Revivalists and Relinquishists alike are not wholly wrong, just mostly. Rather the backlash against technology’s profoundly transformative potentials represents one small step in the right direction, and one giant leap left-field. So let’s unite in their plight to ignite consideration of the dangerous potentialities of technology in the eyes of humanity, but fight them when they move to stop the motion with a whimpered halt, rather than to continue the discussion with daring determination and impassioned exalt of aug- and of alt-.
While watching the occupy wall street movement gain momentum and challenge the status quo, we in the transhumanist and technoprogressive community should be taking notes at the differences between this movement and those of the 20th century in direct opposition to some set of conservative policies.
This movement is not in direct opposition to anything. It is however, in opposition to any kind of conservative solutions being recommended to the systemic economic ailments of today. This movement attacks fascism while often improperly referencing the term, it attacks crony capitalism which is culturally vague, and corporatism which is a new word. While an academic or linguist might find them difficult to understand, it is quite simple to judge them as defending themselves as a part of society that is being depleted, as a direct result of our inability to allocate tangible value to them. They are angry. This growing mass of people across the United States is not looking to return to a socio-economic model that influences similar politics of the last century.
Watch the reference video. This is the same group of people (young and old) that are technologically transparent as Peter Singer identifies. They would likely take, but are not looking for traditional jobs, as I and so many others have talked/written about frequently. This vast majority of human potential, while looking at the numbers, can’t be satisfied their odds to compete successfully. Of course, democratic culture has a venue to argue the abstraction of political and even economic rifts in society, but there are none that allow the relatively untrained to argue root causes of the problems preventing their previously comfortable existence.
Movements that aren’t rigidly against some establishment, have a difficult time forming a set of solutions to seek. While the core argument may be “revolting against capitalism”, there is no replacement in site. Having stated that, the Smithian theories aren’t ill prepared; they do however, fail to address the very primitive ability of humans to gauge competition and allocate assets (tangible value); even in a vast market of millions of participants with relatively modest self-interest.
Those opposed, find five congruent contradictions (Ecology, Inequality, Poverty, Property, Systemic Risk) when considering the modern manifestation of what Aristotle, Adam, and Ayn elaborated on in the modern era. These contradictions are not in fact intrinsic to capitalism. They are intrinsic to the animal. In the human pursuit for ecological prudence, egalitarianism, distribution of wealth, shared property, and managed risks; we regularly reject the idea that it is impossible to achieve our goals without our technological extensions…without transparency of information, without distribution of education, without allocation of technologies based on need, as a result of our understandings through transparency. Courting technoprogressivism onto the American political stage may have been a viewed as radical in the last decade, even as its consistent economic recession ensued. But it may not be today, amongst the somewhat informed activists of virtual social networkers and physical street walkers.
In order to be rendered valuable, entities (people in this case) have to be represented well under some agreed upon or legal model. In the case of liberal desperation I think people are willing to consider the potential of living-out the interconnected scenario painted in my voting public or more vividly by Hank Pellissier‘s “representative democracy” in Invent Utopia Now. The transhuman rhetoric based around fundamentally transforming the human condition is not farfetched for the leftist movements of today. One would be naïve to think that tax reform or austerity or redistribution of wealth alone, could cure my aforementioned contradictions. There are no conservative means to remedy the problems of today, only to return to those of the past. Movements like occupy wall street are unlikely to reject transhumanist conversation because of their spiritual or educational or morally conservative roots. Further, we are witnessing an opportunity to empower activist’s discomfort with H+ solutions, to occupy all streets.