Gambling With The Future

A few days ago I was on Twitter discussing this terrible headline about AI and libertarianism (it’s from John Stossel so yeah, don’t even bother). This apparently attracted the attention of Zoltan Istvan, Transhumanist author and philosopher, who started following me on Twitter. I followed back and he sent me a link to a free download of his book, The Transhumanist Wager. So I read it. Or tried to anyway.

The problems with The Transhumanist Wager begin with its turgid prose, but they don’t end there.[1] For the unenlightened, Transhumanism is the school of thought that at some near future date, technology will enable humans to achieve a kind of immortality, either by cloning, uploading our minds onto the Internet, or just putting our heads in jars. What sets Transhumanists apart from the science fiction writers who invented these tropes, is that Transhumanists think this is a dandy proposition and we should do everything within our power to make sure that this happens, up to and including bending or breaking a few inconvenient laws.[2] Istvan is a merry proponent of the bending of these laws and moral codes associated with them, on the grounds that well heck, someone is going to do it anyway and the benefits will be pretty cool, so why not?

Because as history has demonstrated time and agin, the primary beneficiaries of technological advances are the 1%. The wealthy elites would get the mind-uploading tech and the customized meat avatars while the rest of us would be left to rot in squaller, if we’re lucky. The unlucky ones would or be press-ganged into becoming indentured code servants for the wealthy. Yes, we’d all get to go live in the Matrix! As some douchebag’s slave, or part of the infrastructure. Instead of being a taxi driver, you’d get to be their car. Or their customized centaur steed. Forever.

Of course Transhumansits claim it will not be so. That ethical progress and libertarian values will prevent this sort of exploitive power play, which as usual, ignores all of human history and seems to apply only to the sort of perfectly spherical humans that exist in these thought exercises. The problem is that true libertarianism can only be attained by a better, more perfect form of human. And they don’t exist. They are is imaginary as the perfected, incorruptible, immortal souls of medieval Catholic theology.

Which is what all this striving for immaculate digital perfection really is, warmed over Christian escapism.[3] Why worry about fixing the world’s problems when we can go hide in the Matrix?

So now my Twitter feed is full of libertarian futurists and their blinkered self-promotion and congratulatory ramblings, all in service of feeding me to the Machine so that the Koch Brothers and Rand Paul can can become immortals. Thanks but no thanks.

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1. All self-described philosophers have a tragic prose style, as if they are trying to sound as “smart” as their ideas and instead, end up sounding like Wittgenstein with a mouthful of marbles.

2. Human cloning has been outlawed in most countries, and by the UN. The sort of experimentation that would be required to create the mind-machine interface technology to allow for mind uploading isn’t illegal because it doesn’t exist, but if it did, would be illegal as it would violate all known guidelines for ethical practices in research.

3. That, mixed with the standard libertarian dream of having middle class vices legalized in order to enjoy them without the guilt of moral transgression.

Living to Work

Douglass Rushkoff is making some noise again:

I understand we all want paychecks — or at least money. We want food, shelter, clothing, and all the things that money buys us. But do we all really want jobs?

We’re living in an economy where productivity is no longer the goal, employment is. That’s because, on a very fundamental level, we have pretty much everything we need. America is productive enough that it could probably shelter, feed, educate, and even provide health care for its entire population with just a fraction of us actually working.

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, there is enough food produced to provide everyone in the world with 2,720 kilocalories per person per day. And that’s even after America disposes of thousands of tons of crop and dairy just to keep market prices high. Meanwhile, American banks overloaded with foreclosed properties are demolishing vacant dwellings Video to get the empty houses off their books.

Our problem is not that we don’t have enough stuff — it’s that we don’t have enough ways for people to work and prove that they deserve this stuff.

[…]

But there might still be another possibility — something we couldn’t really imagine for ourselves until the digital era. As a pioneer of virtual reality, Jaron Lanier, recently pointed out, we no longer need to make stuff in order to make money. We can instead exchange information-based products.

We start by accepting that food and shelter are basic human rights. The work we do — the value we create — is for the rest of what we want: the stuff that makes life fun, meaningful, and purposeful.

People like to work on their own projects, not just work for the sake of work. We have the ability to provide all the basic necessities for every citizen, thus enabling them to choose personally meaningful work without having to worry about whether it pays the bills. There are thousands of great musicians, novelists, makers, hackers, builders, painters, sculptors, innovators and doers out there who have to put their passions aside and do some menial job, just to buy the necessities that are their right. Sure, a lot of people aren’t any of these things and they would just sit around watching TV and masturbating to internet porn. But so what? Eventually,they’d get bored and find something meaningful to do with their time. Maybe it would just be building birdhouses but it could also be volunteering at their local library or soup kitchen.

Of course it will never happen so long as we let the rich lead us into Economic Calvinism and demand that the poor and working class live in abject poverty and depredation.  It will require rewiring society as it is currently built but that wiring is old and in need of replacing anyway.

Thoughts on the Royal Wedding

The wedding of Prince Humperdink and Princess Buttercup this weekend got overshadowed by our collective blood lust on Sunday but I wanted to try and at least sort out a little of what was going on, at least in my head. Coming at it from the perspective of a dedicated little d democrat, it’s a silly farce fit for medievals and monarchists, the closeted fascists of Europe who every few decades get to drag out their Empire swords and shine them up good and proper. That so many Americans got swept away in this old timey display of ostentatious wealth of the excessively inbred makes one wonder if we Americans don’t have a secret cabal of Monarchists lurking in our closets. And in a way we do.

The Monarchy as a sort of archetype is embedded in our collective unconscious. It’s the rough edges of fairy tales and history peeking through the modern world. We spent so many thousands of years with kings and queens and the traditions that go with them that at least on some level we have a hard wired Monarchist neurocircuit in our brains. Some of us learn how to defuse it and others just embrace the occasional activation of fealty to tradition and the pageantry of culture. It’s weird, but a benign sort of weirdness, like going to Ren fairs or dressing up like psychopaths on Halloween. A sort of cathartic mocking of the old-fangled with just a touch of reverence for a way of life that we no longer live.

Or maybe we just like watching rich people get gussied up and fantasizing it’s us in those fancy clothes (which we can never, ever afford) and prance around in ancient hallowed ground (that we’re forbidden from looking at except from the far side of a velvet rope).

I Called It! I’m So Sad…

This makes sense and that is the problem:

Incredibly, President George W. Bush told French President Jacques Chirac in early 2003 that Iraq must be invaded to thwart Gog and Magog, the Bible’s satanic agents of the Apocalypse.

Honest. This isn’t a joke. The president of the United States, in a top-secret phone call to a major European ally, asked for French troops to join American soldiers in attacking Iraq as a mission from God.

Now out of office, Chirac recounts that the American leader appealed to their “common faith” (Christianity) and told him: “Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East…. The biblical prophecies are being fulfilled…. This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a New Age begins.”

This bizarre episode occurred while the White House was assembling its “coalition of the willing” to unleash the Iraq invasion. Chirac says he was boggled by Bush’s call and “wondered how someone could be so superficial and fanatical in their beliefs.”

Next time someone asks me why I’m an atheist, I’m just going to point them to this story. Atheists don’t start wars because of fairy tales.

Once we figured out that all the bogus excuses for the war were so much bullshit, it became pretty obvious that President Kill Again was an empty suit, listening ot the voices in his head. “No! Sadam’s gonna send the model planes of death to kill us all!” we were told by the wingnuts. Yeah. So, there you go. It was all about the Jeebus.

Can we leave now?

“You Keep Using This Word. I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means.”

There was an interesting discussion over at Boing Boing earlier about libraries and how they handle books on the occult.

Cecile Dubuis wrote a master’s dissertation for University College London titled “Libraries & The Occult.” I’ve only read bits of it,but the challenge she identifies is that occult books are, by their nature, anomalous and hard to categorize, much like the phenomena discussed in their pages. As a result, they are often unsearchable in the context of traditional library classification systems.

Sadly, the discussion wandered off into weird, symbolic arguments about Remote Viewing and whether or not it can be scientifically validated (short answer: it can’t. Remote Viewing has about as much science in it as Voodoo Economics has dolls and magic potions).

Continue reading ““You Keep Using This Word. I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means.””

Welcome to Fantasy Island

China Mieville has a great article over at In These Times about Floating Utopias and the sinister, libertarian shadow, the tax-free micro-nation. It’s a fun read* but the best part is his summation of Libertarianism:

Libertarianism, by contrast, is a theory of those who find it hard to avoid their taxes, who are too small, incompetent or insufficiently connected to win Iraq-reconstruction contracts, or otherwise chow at the state trough. In its maundering about a mythical ideal-type capitalism, libertarianism betrays its fear of actually existing capitalism, at which it cannot quite succeed. It is a philosophy of capitalist inadequacy.

Libertarians have always struck me as either extremely naive or excessively callous. They don’t want to be part of society if they have to share burdens and responsibilities or contribute (other than goods and services that they get cash money paid for). They want to drop out of society and be like hippies, only they still want to drive Hummers and have that leather couch they’ve always wanted.

Continue reading “Welcome to Fantasy Island”

The Love Gun

It’s hard being a satirist these days. No matter what great little idea you come up with to poke fun at the powerful and well connected, it pales in comparison to the tinfol hat, bat shit snorting insanity that actually is the Right Wing Media. Take Bill O’Reilly’s latest fantasy:

A “national underground network” of pink pistol-packing lesbians is terrorizing America. “All across the country,” they are raping young girls, attacking heterosexual males at random, and forcibly indoctrinating children as young as 10 into the homosexual lifestyle, according to a shocking June 21 segment on the popular Fox News Channel program, “The O’Reilly Factor.”

Titled “Violent Lesbian Gangs a Growing Problem,” the segment began with host Bill O’Reilly briefly referencing for his roughly 3 million viewers the case of Wayne Buckle, a DVD bootlegger who was attacked by seven lesbians in New York City last August. Deploying swift, broad strokes, O’Reilly painted a graphic picture of lesbian gangs running amok. “In Tennessee, authorities say a lesbian gang called GTO, Gays Taking Over, are involved in raping young girls,” he reported. “And in Philadelphia, a lesbian gang called DTO, Dykes Taking Over, are allegedly terrorizing people as well.”

In Bill O’Reilly land, lesbian gangs wielding pink pistols are terrorizing heteros and children, driving them into a life of depredation, sodomy and crime. I think it’s the pink pistols that really puts it over the top. If I wrote a story in which I described this sort of thing, no one would believe it. Honestly, I couldn’t have come up with something so bizarre and perverse if I tried. I haven’t heard anything so fucking weird since the last time I read Naked Lunch. Thing is, William S. Burrows was out of his mind on heroin when he wrote about talking assholes and jism drinking alien sodomites and even then he meant them to be satirical fantasies. But Bill O’Reilly was stone cold sober, people. Think about that. Even more far fetched, Papa Bear wants you to consider this, not just as a fantastical bit of absurdest commentary, or as some dark and perverted fantasy, but as an actual, factual and verifiable event in the material world. David Neiwert, via the link above, has all the pertinent details on how this is complete fascist bullshit, in case you’re concerned.

We need stronger satire people, because reality is catching up.

Never fear! Science Fiction Will Save You!

Has it ever seemed to you like the folks over at Homeland Security think they live in a science fiction universe, where water can be made to explode and a nut with a home made shoe bomb is a credible threat? This is the reason why:

Looking to prevent the next terrorist attack, the Homeland Security Department is tapping into the wild imaginations of a group of self-described “deviant” thinkers: science-fiction writers.

“We spend our entire careers living in the future,” says author Arlan Andrews, one of a handful of writers the government brought to Washington this month to attend a Homeland Security conference on science and technology.

Those responsible for keeping the nation safe from devastating attacks realize that in addition to border agents, police and airport screeners, they “need people to think of crazy ideas,” Andrews says.

The writers make up a group called Sigma, which Andrews put together 15 years ago to advise government officials. The last time the group gathered was in the late 1990s, when members met with government scientists to discuss what a post-nuclear age might look like, says group member Greg Bear. He has written 30 sci-fi books, including the best seller Darwin’s Radio.

Now, the Homeland Security Department is calling on the group to help with the government’s latest top mission of combating terrorism.

I’m as much a fan of Science Fiction as the next geek, but these guys write futuristic war porn. Plug any one of their names into Amazon and you’ll find a bibliography of wingnuttery. These are the guys who think worldwide wars with tactical nukes are a good idea. And now the TSA and OHS want them coming up with fantasy scenarios that they think terrorists will use against us. Because we don’t have enough of those.

Terrorists will not be stealing a super secret experimental rail gun that fires sub light speed pellets of Einsteinium. They will not be hijacking the MIT Centrifuge in order to try and create a rogue black hole. Any would-be terrorist is going to use the easiest, dirtiest and most effective way to cause a Black Swan Event. That means hijacking airplanes to use as missiles (which, now that it’s been done is predictable and therefore, a worthless tactic). They’ll build homemade explosives, stuff them in a backpack and then blow themselves up on the New York Subway. Maybe. More than likely though, as we recently discovered, they’ll be so scared by an undercover FBI agent trying to get them to preform an ill-advised raid on Fort Dix, that they’ll call the police on themselves.

It’s this sort of sci-fi nonsensical thinking that has got US citizens afraid, and willing to turn over their rights, in the hopes that Jack Bauer will save them from terrorists with fantasy super weapons. Perhaps we’ve seen too many James Bond films but so long as we’re distracting ourselves looking for Dr. Evil and his sharks with laser beams, we’ll overlook the real threat, which of course is the point of all this terror theater: keep people distracted with elaborate scenarios and maybe they won’t notice that there’s nothing practical we can do to predict who the next disgruntled guy with a grudge and an IED or a cache of weapons will be.

Link via Boing Boing.

The Un-discovered Country

In order to reach the conclusion that there is no Limbo, the Pope sent out an official Vatican exploration team, led by a driven, sincere priest who wanted to find out if Limbo was real for personal reasons, to see if his brother, who died as an infant, was there, safe and sound. But after years of plundering heaven, driven mad by his quest, he reached the same conclusion as did Ponce de Leon (and the same fate as Lope de Aguirre): that just because you can imagine something exists, it doesn’t mean it will show up in the real world.