Drivers for Change

February 13, 2008

Over at Open the Future, Jamais Cascio was recently talking about inevitable near-future events that have the capacity to radically transform our society:

You don’t have to believe in incipient singularities to recognize that 2028 — just twenty years from now — will bear very little resemblance to 2008.

A small cluster of rapidly-accelerating drivers promises to dominate the first quarter of this century. Each of these drivers, alone, has the potential to remake how we live; together, the likelihood of a fundamental transformation of our lives, our politics, our world, becomes over-determined. Moreover, these drivers are distinct but interdependent: each one exists and would be transformative on its own, but how it plays out — and the choices we’ll face when confronting it — will be contingent upon how the other drivers unfold. Twenty years isn’t a long time to make the needed changes to turn potential disaster into a new world; we have all of five US presidential terms — maximum — to completely transform, globally, every significant aspect of our material civilization.

The specific drivers he notes are:

  • Climate Chaos
  • Resource Collapse
  • Catalytic Innovation (transformative technologies)
  • Ubiquitous Transparency (surveillance state vs. sousveillance)
  • New Models of Global Development
  • The Rise of the Post-Hegemonic World (the weakening of American power)

As I’ve discussed in previous posts (see Will Robots Spark the Revolution?), the point behind anarcho-transhumanist projects shouldn’t be just to advocate and fight for open access to and liberatory uses of technology. One of our main priorities should be to evaluate futurist scenarios for transformative drivers like those mentioned above that have the capacity to not only shake up the world, but to create crisis points within capitalism — stages where capitalist hegemony is weakened and possibilities for revolutionary alternatives are increased. There is far too little discussion in anarchist scenarios about the future — and what is out there tends to be formulated as dire warnings of impending apocalypse or Big Brother scenarios. The primitivists, perhaps, discuss these matters, but only with a callous eye towards how they can exploit tragedy to achieve their fantasy tribal lifestyles.

What revolutionary-minded anarchists should be doing is evaluating these drivers noted above and creating a game plan. What outcomes are likely? How can we position ourselves to affect them, to strive towards outcomes we’d prefer? How can we take advantage of the weaknesses these changes will bring to the status quo? What political stances should we be making and clarifying now, in preparation for future ideological battles? What sort of movement infrastructure should we be seeking to establish, in order to create a counterpower best prepared to deal with these future scenarios? Where should we focus our organizing efforts? Our direct action?

Our movements spend far too much time trying to fight a monolithic capitalism system head-on right now, while glorifying the past, without realizing that both are going to have very little relevance on how the next 20-50 years play out. The world is going to be changing quite rapidly, and if we’re not prepared to deal with it, we’re going to have no chance in fighting for a better future. It’s adapt or die time. So let’s get to it.

at.jpg

So the previous owner of the anarcho-transhumanism.com site (not to be confused with this blog, anarchotranshumanism.com, no hyphen) has passed it over to us. We’re contemplating transforming it into a general resource site, focusing on both anarchist and H+ interests, and of course pushing a specific @H+ perspective. We’re also considering adding forums to the site (a free feature, unless we start exceeding bandwidth limits) to open up the discussion of @H+ and get more people involved. We’ve also discussed having an email list for that in the past, but forums may be better.

We’d like to hear what you, our relatively small audience (so far!) has to say. Would you be interested in a general resource site? Would you help build it? Are you interested in forums or an email list? Have any other ideas? Our ears are open. Please leave a comment.

I call shenanigans!

November 2, 2007

So it appears that Case Western has created ‘super mice’ by way of a genetweak. Full article here.

The article itself makes for some interesting reading. The mouse is stronger, faster, more durable, lives longer, eats more but is less fat and, as the talking bobbleheads on CNN pointed out, it is sexually active longer into its lifespan. And best of all, the gene that was tweaked is one that is also present in humans.

But not to worry, say the researchers, this would never be done on humans! Bullshit. It’s fucking intellectually dishonest to present this as something that these scientists did “just for funsies and only for mice.” What kind of fucking moron actually buys that? You don’t do biomedical research on mice because you’re interested in making mice live longer, eat better, and have great sex in their old age. You just don’t. You do it because you want to improve humans. Improve them in the way you improved the mice.

By avoiding the question of whether these techniques can be developed for humans, or worse still claiming that they would never do that is utter bullshit. It’s dishonest and tries to preempt a legitimate discussion on this technique. Claiming that something is unethical and shouldn’t be used to enhance people merely ensures that discussions about the technique don’t take place in the public. And this is a discussion that should very much take place in public. Are you honestly telling me that everyone in the world is bound by the same morals as the CWRU scientists? That China, or Russia, or even DARPA isn’t creaming themselves over the idea of soldiers or workers who can work longer, live longer, are more durable? Considering all the crazy shit that DARPA has done in the past (for example check out Sharon Weinberger’s stuff or the Danger Room blog) this is basically a slam dunk homerun touchdown.

Not talking about techniques like this openly and publicly only feeds the conspiracy theory trolls of the bioconservative movement. Pretending we would never-ever seek to do something like this to humans just reinforces the paranoia that scientists are lying to us and are making a seekrit army of clones in underground bunkers somewhere. Sure, a public debate is gonna bring out the crazy, but last I checked crazy still got to participate in public debate (see: Presidential Election). Crazy is gonna sound off anyway, we may as well have a more open and honest discourse.

And sometimes it’s both. Rather than bore you with the whole ‘where have you been, why don’t you write me anymore’ I’m just gonna jump in with the word-ifying.

There’s a new article in the American Journal of Bioethics by Moreno and Berger on the roots of the neocon opposition to biotech (tip of the hat to Kelly over at IMAARS for bringing the article to my attention). Basically the article is about what intellectual frauds most neocons are in their inability to own up the inherent problems in capitalism and the fact that they basically act like frightened children at the prospect of scientific progress, particularly in the area of biotechnology.

The article itself is excellent and does a good job calling out neocon bioconservatives for both ignoring their own intellectual roots in Marxism and for playing fast and loose with philosophy. All that is fine and good but what struck me was something else entirely.

What really jumped out to me was that the philosophical argument being presented by both the bioconservative right and the bioconservative left is that there is something inherently human in being human and that any sort of modification is a discarding or at the very least a modification of this humanity into something else, something less than human in the minds of the bioconservatives. This is truly frightening since it opens up all sorts of possible nastiness. If I get a genetweak and I’m no longer human in the way that the scared masses whipped into a fervor by the bioconservative crowd define ‘human,’ then I automatically become a target for persecution. This can be ‘mild’ in nature — I don’t get full legal rights, I have to register myself with local gov’t agencies, I have special sections reserved for where I can sit/eat/excrete/etc (because it could be contagious you know) — or it could be more repressive. Pogroms, deportations, killings, etc. The first step to creating a despised minority has always been to make them less than human. It seems to me that’s exactly what the bioconservatives are attempting to do, preemptively, to those that seek positive self-enhancement or to use genetic means to address human frailties.

Please note that this entry originally appeared about two weeks ago but due to technical errors got deleted and it took me a bit to get back around to it.

Gaining control

May 29, 2007

From the better-late-than-never file, I’m finally writing the post I’ve been wanting to on the FDA approving the new birth control pill Lybrel.

As Amanda Marcotte over at Pandagon points out, this has all kinds of people up in arms — though “all kinds of people” in this case is the predictable list of pro-lifers, religious nuts, and women who’s idea of feminism is being properly submissive to men.

Why does this matter to us? Well part of the transhuman agenda is gaining greater control over our bodies. Anything that helps us do this is good. Looking at the types of resistance to new drugs like Lybrel can also give us an idea about how other therapies are likely to be viewed in the future.

As we move forward and start to see new gene therapies, procedures derived from stem cells, and increasing use of pharma for control of our bodies and biological futures, expect to see a corresponding ratcheting up of the shrill protests. These will probably come from both the religious nuts out there who see these techniques and technologies as interfering with “god’s plan” and primitivists who see this as tampering with our “natural selves”–which is like “god’s plan” but for the faithless.

This has the potential to turn into an uphill struggle and poses a danger of slowing progress. While I’m skeptical of unrestrained progress, this is not a good reason for it to slow down. Slowing progress for safety concerns is one thing. Slowing it because your magical imaginary sky god told you to or because you believe in some fairy-tale magical world where we live in harmony with nature is fucking stupid and should be resisted.

Among the many books I have piled up awaiting read is Naseem Taleb’s The Black Swan but I thought I’d offer a quick note after hearing him speak on a radio talk show yesterday. The main point of the book seems to be that we don’t take into account anomalous events enough when making plans for the future. Taleb seems to mostly be talking about the predictive modeling that is used for the making of public and economic policy but his point is one that’s been stressed by social psychologists in the past: namely that we have a tendency to assume a base continuity to our lives, that things will continue to be much as they have been in the past.

Why does this matter for us? Well I’ve already talked to one friend who opined that since black swans are going to happen it’s pointless to try and learn anything from past events and we should embrace a sort of fatalistic nihilism. I find this sort of sentiment to be rather stupid and I’m fairly certain it’s not the point Taleb is trying to make.

While there will undoubtedly be more black swans to come, the important thing isn’t necessarily trying to predict them but, rather, to be in place to influence the response to them. Look at the American Neo-Conservative movement as an example. Without a doubt September 11th was a black swan event. While it was something a small group had warned about, it wasn’t considered a terribly likely event so it caught us unawares. That small group that had warned about it was instantly awarded credibility and given prime spots shouting nonsense on teevee and within the administration.

So what you ask?

Read the rest of this entry »

This story, about a double amputee looking to participate in the Olympics, has been getting some press as a human interest story of late. It raises an interesting question on the transhuman front.

Realistically most people are going to be reluctant to make extreme changes to their bodies, especially if the benefits of doing so are not immediately obvious. There are, of course, exceptions such as the BMEzine community or eccentrics like Kevin Warwick, but these people are not likely to appeal to the mainstream, nor do they fit into the realm of immediately useful modifications and are more likely to be seen as gimmicky (unless you really feel saline injections in your cock are something that allows you to be a more efficient and better human.)

So the question is: where are modifications that will be publicly appealing and useful likely to come from? I see three realistic and currently developing possibilities: our aging population, military advances, and athletes. Yes. Athletes.

Read the rest of this entry »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.