Minor Change

April 16, 2009


Some basic reality of Obama’s first 80 days:

* Obama has escalated the illegal war in Afghanistan with an additional 21,000 troops.
* Obama has expanded the war into Pakistan areas, using troops and unmanned drones.
* Obama has extended the deadline for withdrawing troops from Iraq to 2010—and even that date may be extended by the Pentagon.
* Obama said he plans to leave 35,000-50,000 troops plus 50,000-100,000 mercenaries in Iraq after that, effectively continuing the illegal occupation.
* Obama said he would close Guantanamo within 1 year, yet prisoners there are still being force fed with tubes shoved down their throats.
* Obama approved $60 million to double the size of Bagram prison in Afghanistan.
* Obama’s Justice Department has defended the Bush policy of illegal warrantless wiretapping and asserted far broader claims of executive branch immunity than even the Bush regime.

(This list is just the start. It doesn’t cover, for example, how Obama has appointed 5 former RIAA lawyers to the Justice Dept, or how he has failed to follow through with many of his promises of transparency.)

You know, it’s not often that I read something from the RCP that I actually like, but they hit the nail on the head with the above in this piece on Obama:

This is what Democracy looks like. Peddling illusions and steering a movement to support the daily horror that this means for the people of the world, is what a movement in utter collapse looks like.

The best we’re ever going to get with Obama is capitalism with a friendlier face. All of the people who were pro-Obama will hopefully recognize that the many problems we face aren’t just the result of Bush and the Republicans, but problems inherent in capitalism itself. The only way to fix that is to eliminate capitalism … and right now capitalism is on its knees like never before.

Ethical Robot Killers

April 12, 2009

predatorThe news that the military is working on killer drones that will operate autonomously was in the news again recently. Y’know, like none of us have seen this coming. Or that entire movies franchises haven’t been built off of this plot. Is anyone really surprised? The military, of course, is talking about how such machines will be programmed with a set of robot ethics, so that they don’t get in trouble for killing the wrong people, or say, someone trying to surrender. We all trust the military, right?

Jamais Cascio addresses the issue more concretely with a draft set of his own Laws of Robotics. These are a good start, noting both that humans are ultimately responsible for robot behaviors and actions and that we need to consider that robots are going to increasingly become more *like* humans. Also of importance is that these robots will also be programmed in accordance with dominant social customs and norms:

Law #2: Politics Matters
The First Law has a couple of different manifestations. At a broad, social level, the question of consequences comes down to politics–not in the partisan sense, but in the sense of power and norms. The rules embedded into an autonomous or semi-autonomous system come from individual and institutional biases and norms, and while that can’t really be avoided, it needs to be acknowledged. We can’t pretend that technologies–particularly technologies with a level of individual agency–are completely neutral.

These are not just issues and concerns that we should be applying to those in power. Increasingly, robots and drones will be proliferate and become accessible to others — including anarchists. If a tech savvy anarchist insurgency was to employ its own drones, say to assassinate capitalist leaders or sabotage corporate or military facilities, these issues will also need to be considered and addressed in a careful and principled manner.

Yes We Can

November 7, 2008

Not sure who wrote this message below, but I found it on an anti-racist activist list. It matches a lot of my own thoughts, so I’m posting it in full.

Yes, We Can and No, He Can’t:

Why I Cannot Rejoice at Obama’s Victory

Words can scarcely express the way it feels to see an African-American elected President. For a member of a group that has been marginalized and oppressed throughout the entire history of this country to suddenly emerge in its highest office is a powerful image, one that reverberates with waves of emotion. It is a feeling of awe, of deliverance, and of triumph. Today, those who voted for this man — many themselves members of disenfranchised minorities — are feeling something else as well: the feeling of being powerful, a feeling being experienced by many of them for the first time in their lives.

At the same time, people of color, students, workers, immigrants, and others whose votes proved decisive in this election, comprise the majority of this country’s population. Among them, most perform functions without which the infrastructure of the United States would undergo immediate and total collapse. There is not a force in this country, nor in the world, that could stop them from achieving their objectives were they to band together. This is real power, and it is power that exists with or without Barack Obama.

There is a reason that the essential message of the Obama campaign has resonated with this electorate unlike any other. This message — that it is the struggling masses, rather than the self-appointed elites of this country, who bear the ultimate control over its destiny – rings true. But for too long, this control has been willingly surrendered.

Barack Obama wants the masses to feel powerful, to feel that our voices are heard and acted upon. But he wants us to place our ultimate faith not in ourselves, but in the institutions of the state, the very institutions that have brought us more than two centuries of war, exploitation, bigotry, colonialism, and an ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor. Doing so would allow our hopes and dreams for a brighter future to be blunted, deflected, and diverted through channels that reduce their potential threat to the established order to the barest minimum.

The election of Barack Obama will not stop the next innocent black man from being gunned down by police in cold blood. It will not make it more likely that a black man will go to college than to prison. It will not put an end to wars of economic conquest. It will not stop the wealthy CEOs responsible for the country’s financial collapse from being rewarded for their recklessness while the rest of us bear the tragic consequences. These phenomena are caused by the very structure, by the very foundations of American power itself. These are forces that Barack Obama is powerless to stop.

Throughout history, elites have sought to mute resistance and dissent by ruling subject populations through proxies drawn from their own ranks. These have included the caciques of colonial Latin America, the maharajas and nawabs of the British Raj in India, and arguably, the current government of Iraq. Such proxy rulers, while frequently motivated by power and material gain, have sometimes acted, as they have seen it, in furtherance of a different agenda: a genuine desire to improve the lives of their constituents by assuming limited control over the mechanisms of their own oppression. That such motivations did occasionally exist is illustrated by the example of Tupac Amaru II, an Incan cacique of colonial Peru who abandoned the trappings of limited rule as a proxy of the Spanish governor to ignite a massive indigenous uprising in 1780, ultimately paying with his life.

While the true motivations of Barack Obama may never be known with certainty, his impact upon the popular imagination, and in turn, upon social movements guided by that imagination, is obvious. The overwhelming majority of progressive-minded individuals and organizations in the United States, whose ranks had been swelled and momentum profoundly enhanced by eight years of repressive rule by the increasingly unpopular George W. Bush, have granted their unqualified support to Obama. This unprecedented level of emotional investment in presidential politics on the part of progressives has come at the expense of a declining interest in other programs of the left, such as activism in opposition to the Iraq war. Under the Obama administration, there is a very real danger that the proactive efforts of social justice movements to bring about real and lasting change – the kind that governments cannot and will not deliver – will all but grind to a halt.

Further, while the election of the first African-American to the presidency will undoubtedly bolster the self-esteem of people of color, consistently eroded by four centuries of oppression, this benefit comes at the risk of reinforcing the dangerous myth of an American meritocracy. The vast disparities of income, of access to essential services, and indeed, of access to the means to achieve social mobility, remain firmly in place. Obama’s election will even be used by some to argue that race has ceased to be an issue in this country, throwing up new barriers to the civil rights movement that is every bit as necessary today as it was in the 1960s.

Among the factors paving the way for Obama’s meteoric rise were the deep psychological need for most Americans to elect a candidate as nearly opposite George W. Bush as possible, and the fact that John McCain clearly represented a continuation of the same disastrous policies. Scholars will debate the exact combination of deciding factors for years to come, but most will agree that this was the first election in American history in which there was even a remote possibility that a black man could win the presidency.

Notably, much of Obama’s support has come from affluent whites. With a nation clamoring for change with increasing fervor, ruling class elites have found their dominance serious threatened for the first time since the 1960s. The old order could not ensure its long-term survival without presenting the public with the appearance of change. The more dramatic this apparent change, the more dissent would be quelled and the teeming masses pacified. The more new and different a face the ruling elite could present to the world, the more the energy of its opposition could be redirected through channels that leave the fundamental structures of an unjust system wholly intact. Utilization of such state-sanctioned avenues for voicing dissent results in mere token reforms which deceive the masses with the illusion of genuine progress. At this unique historical moment, nothing could better serve the long-term interests of the white ruling class elite than the election of a black man to the presidency. Willingly or not, Barack Obama has become the new face of the very system he claims to oppose.

For countless African-Americans, to see Obama elected is to possess, for the first time, the feeling that their country’s chief executive — despite being, like most other candidates past and present, an Ivy League-educated millionaire — can actually relate to their unique experience as a constituency that arrived here in chains, and for whom, four centuries later, true equality remains elusive. There is an underlying assumption that this shared experience will play a major role in the President’s forthcoming policy decisions, that as a black man, he would do everything in his power to finally end the ongoing systematic oppression of other African-Americans. For many of his non-black supporters, the implication is similar: that as a man who, by virtue of his skin color, is personally subject to the most longstanding and pervasive form of bigotry in this country, he will be inclined to not only seek justice for his own, but for all the marginalized people of the country. Supporters of all races likewise tend to assume that this benevolence will extend to the foreign sphere, despite many sharp indicators to the contrary. There will be no administration in American history of which progressives will be more forgiving.

As Condoleeza Rice demonstrated by publicly shopping for thousand-dollar-plus shoes while bodies were still floating in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward, a shared experience is no guarantee of solidarity. Like Tupac Amaru II, we must recognize that no form of participation in a system that is explicitly designed to perpetuate social, political, and economic inequality can ever be an instrument for meaningful change. These institutions cannot be reformed from without or from within; they can only be constructed anew, with justice, equality, and direct democracy as their cornerstones. It was only a mass civil rights movement that opened the doors to the limited penetration of African-Americans into the ruling class and institutions of power in this country, and it will require another mass movement, even more powerful than the last, to fundamentally alter the dynamics of power for the betterment of all people.

Barack Obama is not the embodiment of our hopes and dreams. He is a man who, irrespective of his intentions, will serve only to present the same injustices to the world, at home and abroad, with a smiling new face. We cannot allow our new President and his administration, nor any other, to serve as the vehicle for our pursuit of justice, regardless of what breadcrumbs of justice they may deliver to us. We must not allow our righteous anger to be diverted through channels that leave the institutions of our oppression intact, and those who profit from it unaccountable. We must not relent in our struggle.

Barack Obama is right about one thing: Yes, we can. We can change this country, and we can change this world. This change will not be ushered in through the ballot box, and it will not come from superimposing a new face on the old order. It is time to stop celebrating, and start organizing. Barack Obama will not bring change for us; we must bring it for ourselves. Yes, we can.


July 8, 2008

….elections serve two purposes. One is to settle disputes between different sections of the ruling class, without bloodshed. The other is to give the people the impression that they rule the government.

The above is from an excellent and articulate piece by Wayne Price, called “None of the Above: The Anarchist Case Against Electoralism”, which was published in NEFAC’s Northeastern Anarchist in 2004. A local anarchist group I’m working with is doing some readings on democracy, including this one. The piece is still quite relevant, of course, and incorporates the anarchist critique of voting with some good analysis of why both reformist political measures and independent party politics are useless as end goals.

These arguments also relate to (anarcho-)transhumanism, of course, especially if you consider that the accelerating technologies transhumanists predict (and often advocate) are likely to create upheavals and massive changes in society and capitalism itself. The social-democratic transhumanists could, for example, see these transformations as an opportunity to create a more tech-friendly third party with a technoprogressive agenda. As Wayne argues, however, such a party is likely to still be an instrument of, and for, capitalism.

Suppose a major crisis were to shake the U.S., such as a collapse of the economy. There would be mass discontent. In that case, a new party might form, precisely to get in front of the mass rebelliousness and to lead it back into the established order. That is, the new party would be an obstacle to change, not a means of achieving it. The party would be based on the Left of the Democrats (such as it is) tearing itself away from the Democrats in order to maintain its base. It would include the union bureaucrats, more-or-less liberal party hacks, popular preachers, and various demagogues. It might call itself a Labor party, due to the participation of the union officials, or it might not, but the middle-class composition of the organizers would be the same. It might use democratic socialist rhetoric, but its program would really be the stabilization of capitalism. In fact it would be a new capitalist party and not a challenge to the system. Due to the very capitalist crisis that created it, it would be unable to make real improvements; but it might be able to derail a popular rebellion. Such a formation should not be welcomed but opposed.

The social democrat transhumanists argue that many of the approaching technologies will help to democratize government in positive ways — such as how citizen journalism and the internet are making government processes and actions more transparent and accountable now — and this may be true to an extent. What they are overlooking, however, is how many of these technologies lend themselves to more efficient methods of authoritarian social control (the burgeoning trend of ubiquitous urban surveillance for example, or mass data-mining in the name of fighting terrorism) and — even more importantly — how some of these technologies threaten the control of capitalism by their very nature (such as longevity or nanofabrication). It is far more likely that the political arm of capitalism will steer towards authoritarian measures and right-wing attitudes in response to these developments; at best, the social democratic transhumanists might soften the blow. It is worth noting that these same transhumanists also favor strong government regulation of potentially dangerous technologies.

Rather than playing electoral political games, anarcho-transhumanists should be pushing for extra-electoral mass movements, direct action, and counter-institutions to promote real transformative social change.

Also relevant: Voting Only Makes Things Worse

I’ve been following the debate surrounding this op-ed by Mark Helprin. Helprin, who keeps getting referred to as a sci-fi writer but not as a fellow at the conservative Claremont Institute, basically makes the claim that not only are copyrights a good thing, but they should be extended to last perpetually. As in, forever.

There’s been a spirited rebuttal posted at this wiki where they make several valid points, including Helprin’s mistaken understanding of public goods. The main point, however, that copyrights are something desirable and good, is never questioned. Certainly not by Helprin, and not by the wiki (at least last time I checked).

Read the rest of this entry »

@H+ vs. H+, Round 1

December 29, 2006

Ok, time I actually started to post to this thing.

Let’s start off with defining some of the ways I see anarcho-transhumanism (@H+) diverging from regular ol’ transhumanism (H+, as defined in generic WTA terms):

— @H+ is explicitly anti-capitalist. You cannot have capitalism without some form of coercion and exploitation. A truly egalitarian society needs to be anti-capitalist.

— The elites will view accelerating technologies — longevity, AI, nanotech — as a threat to their power. This means they are likely to restrict it and retain as much of it as they can for their own authoritarian purposes rather than encouraging it to be disseminated. If we wish to avoid domination by factions of near-immortal oligarchs, we need to find our own ways to seize, access, and democratize those technologies.

— Those in power will never surrender that power willingly. Technology will give them the tools to supress and co-opt dissent. To establish a free society, we first need to create an insurgency to undermine and overthrow the systems that exist.

— Corporations are not to be trusted.

— Transhumanists seem to view bioconservatives, both of the religious and left-wing variety, as the largest impediment to establishing a more egalitarian society where technology enhances and improves view the human condition. Governments and corporations are not an opposition force themselves, but they may be influenced by bioconservatives and need to be watched for abusing technolgy in irresponsible ways.
Anarchists, however, tend to view the struggle for a free society as being opposed by both the state and fascists (counting the authoritarian right, religious fundamentalists, and certain criminal networks in this category). Revolutionary forces expousing radical authoritarian and/or fundamentalist views are predominant across the globe, and have a real chance of seizing power in certain scenarios — usually more so than any left alternative (at least according to Three Way Fight politics).

More to come.


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