Dale Carrico loves to put the smackdown on transhumanists

I guess I am out of it, but I never read Dale Carrico‘s work until recently.  I guess Carrico is a “critical theorist” and rhetorician who has been beating up on “futurological discourses” for years.  He seems to be some sort of leftist post-modernist, and he loves to trot out intricate and embellished language that almost reminds me of those continental types like the Situationists.  I really enjoy Carrico’s writings.  Which is to say, I enjoy whatever shards of meaning fall out when I attempt to unravel the tangle of his rhetorical empurplement.

I mean, check this out:

Discourses of “Bio-Enhancement” always presume that certain incumbent interests or self-appointed biomoralist elites are authorized to designate what constitutes an “enhanced” human capacity, morphology, or lifeway — whatever informed, nonduressed consenting persons might say to the contrary — and hence all such discourses express a factual or aspirational eugenic outlook. Anyone who would claim or aspire to engineer an “optimal,” idealized, postulated homo superior with which they presently identify, always at the cost of a dis-identification with the lifeway diversity of humanity with whom they actually share the world, are advocating a de facto eugenicist politics, whatever their claims or desires to the contrary.”

– Dale Carrico, Futurological Brickbracks

Tell me that doesn’t remind you of this other Marxist:

“IMAGES DETACHED FROM every aspect of life merge into a common stream, and the former unity of life is lost forever. Apprehended in a partial way, reality unfolds in a new generality as a pseudo-world apart, solely as an object of contemplation. The tendency toward the specialization of images-of-the-world finds its highest expression in the world of the autonomous image, where deceit deceives itself. The spectacle in its generality is a concrete inversion of life, and, as such, the autonomous movement of non-life.”

– Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle 

I mean, what the hell are these guys saying?  But this isn’t a rant against post-modernist obfuscation, it’s a post about Carrico’s criticism of futurology.  That quote from Brickbracks seems to boil down to, “If you talk about bio-enhancement, then you assume that you have the right to call something good even if others disagree with you.  And really anyone trying to improve on humans is a Nazi.”  To the first point, well, yeah, anyone can call anything good if they want to… To the second point, birth-control is a bio-enhancement unavailable to much of the human population and thus your argument is invalid.

I want to listen to Carrico’s criticism, I really do.  Because I struggle with narratives of progress.  I find myself saying, “But wait, what about all this bullshit going on?”  But I also can’t ignore that something like progress is really going on here.  So I will put up my dukes and take a shot at one of Carrico’s essays from 2009: Superlative Futurology.  I do highly recommend Carrico’s work, because someone has to mock out the nerds that drink too much Kool-Aid, it helps keep us honest.

Carrico makes a lot of good points in Superlative Futurology.  He criticizes futurist’s “dread of impotence and lust for omnipotence” as infantile, anti-political, and irrational.  There is some merit to these points.  In many extreme futurist narratives, death is overcome and humans have mastered nature to create superabundance.   Maybe Carrico is right, and we futurists need to turn away from the Pleasure Principle, grow up, and get to work facing reality.

It substitutes for the pragmatism of a secular democratic vision of collaborative problem solving (via consensus science) and consensual self-determination (via the provision of general welfare and the maintenance of the rule of law) instead a kind of faith-based initiative in which technoscience is invested with hyper-individualized wish-fulfillment fantasies of personal “transcendence,” a vision of idealized outcomes and personal aspirations for superlongevity, superintelligence, and superabundance — a vision that seems to me conceptually confused and terribly deranging of sensible technodevelopmental deliberation at the worst possible historical moment;

– Dale Carrico, Superlative Futurology

Ouch, that smarts.  But if we pick it apart, there are a lot of assumptions embedded in that passage.  I mean is anyone really turning away from science to pursue futurology?  And what is this “consensual self-determinism” of which he speaks?  Whatever “general welfare” and “rule of law” we happen to have still laying around this dump are remnants of vicious class struggles.

Carrico goes on to assert that techno-elites are somehow circumventing “stakeholder deliberation in matters of technoscientific change.”  Ha!  Yeah, right.  So many people are just itching to jump into the conversation about the future but those damn techno-elites just won’t let them into the conversation.  It’s not the techno-elite’s fault that everyone is too busy staring glassy eyed at screens all day, mindlessly clicking the “Like” button to trigger serotonin bursts…oh wait.  But seriously, people are generally too absorbed in nonsense to think about this stuff.  Not to mention the fact that technological change generally isn’t a function of deliberation in the first place.  Technoscientific change seems to happen when a breakthrough gets recognized as a market opportunity and then grabbed by some hustler.  That, or the military just has it built.  I guess sometimes a consortium gets together and comes up with standards or something, but that is just book keeping.

I could go on, but I will leave it here for now.  It seems that Carrico has a good understanding of the futurist scene and some valid criticism of it’s excesses.  But I will need to dig into his work more to convince myself that he isn’t a bit deluded about the nature of politics and technology.  Nonetheless, he is such an interesting writer that I will enjoy discovering which parts of his work are bullshit and which are not.

4 thoughts on “Dale Carrico loves to put the smackdown on transhumanists

  1. I agree with your criticism of Carrico’s points, but I agree with Carrico’s concern that transhumanists run the risk of dis-identifying with the rest of humanity. That concern would become more acute if the transhumanist agenda started to succeed.

    • Can you give an example of any group that actually does identify with the “rest of humanity?” I would say that there is remarkably little that any individual shares with the entirety of humanity. So what do we really mean when we say this? Americans can’t even begin to grasp the crushing poverty that most humans experience. For that matter, how much can a literate person identify with an illiterate one? I wonder if Carrico sort of glosses over the vast inequality between the Global North and Global South.

  2. It just seems to me that much of the emotional appeal of transhumanism is in the idea of leaving the normal, workaday people behind. That idea is dangerous, especially if you start to succeed.

    • Well I guess I disagree . A literate person leaves the illiterate person behind in terms of modern day functionality. The person with internet leaves behind those without. These are all incremental steps of “transhumanism” in my view since I loosely subscribe to the extended cognition view. Humans with better tools will generally outcompete those that reject or lack access to those tools. I am not sure where the danger comes from.

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