Monday, March 12, 2012

BS watch --- Not mean, but false


Over at Amor Mundi Dale Carrico calls me out in a comment. I am touched by the honor, so I will reciprocate and comment in this very first BS Watch.

First, some context. Dale is basically a good fellow and a very good writer. I must confess that I read him often, and often agree with him. I cannot comment on his blog because a couple of years ago he told me, in public, that I was no longer welcome. The reason he hates me so much is that I am a “Robot Cultist” who “believes that his organismic brain might be “digitized” and thereupon “migrated” (these already questionable metaphors he treats altogether more questionably as scientific hypotheses, of all things) into cyberspace or into a robot body, and thereby quasi-immortalized.
Carrico is really obsessed with Robot Cultists. He used to participate in 
the Robot Cult
 transhumanist online discussions, and he used to be a Fellow at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, but one day he started attacking us with nonsense and lies like an intellectually and emotionally -challenged fool.


  • Is this critique of transhumanism mean?
  • If yes, does its meanness undermine the force of the critique?
  • If yes, can you think of ways to reformulate the critique so that it retains its substance but becomes comparatively immune to this charge of meanness?

I don’t find the post in question so mean, nothing compared to other posts that I have seen. In general, meanness and personal insults often make things more interesting and fun to read, and I must admit to enjoying a good, mean and dirty verbal fight now and then. Meanness also generates page hits and attracts readers, and I know some persons who have decided to join 
the Robot Cult
 technoprogressive and transhumanist interest groups after reading about us on Amor Mundi, so I think Dale is doing very good work for us.

Of course, those who write mean articles about others should be prepared to take meanness in return. They should also do their homework, stick to verifiable claims, and be very careful to avoid false claims and faulty logic. Otherwise, nobody will take them seriously.

Carrico is a Grand Master of strawman arguments, and a consummate liar who never pays any attention to what his “targets” really say. A typical discussion with him goes like this:

DC: Everyone knows that roses are pink, but Robot Cultist X says that roses are green.
X: I am sorry, but I never said that roses are green.
DC: Yes you did, you moron, you and your Robot Cultist friends.
X: I never said that roses are green and I challenge you to find an actual quote, even just one. I have said that most roses are pink or red, but many roses are white or yellow, and some roses have other colors.
DC: Fuck you, asshole. Perhaps you never said that roses are green, but you Robot Cultists want to genetically engineer green and blue roses, and this goes against the finitude and interconnectedness of Nature, and your discourse reinforces the industrial-military-libertropian complex, and… (pages and pages of logorrhea).

Of course, after a few exchanges like this, X stops paying attention and moves on. The problem is not that Carrico’s critique is mean. Mean is tolerable, if it is also interesting and fun. The problem is that it is totally BS. The meanness cannot undermine the force, because there is no force to be undermined. Let’s see:

The post in question is divided into ten separate claims, which I will comment below one by one.

One: Enjoying science fiction is not the same thing as doing science or making science policy.
Carrico can only think in black and white, mutually exclusive categories, and is unable to understand overlapping categories. Many science fiction fans are also very literate in science and have advanced degrees and a long list of peer-reviewed publications to prove it, and many top scientists and science policy wonks are also science fiction fans.
Of course enjoying science fiction is not the same thing as doing science or making science policy, but this does not disqualify persons interested in science fiction from doing science or making science policy, if they have the inclination, skills and qualifications.
I could list many examples, but it would be kind of useless because Carrico ignores facts when they get in the way of his sophistry.
I find it very strange that a person who teaches at a top college is unable to understand the simple words “and, also.”

Two: Indulging in wish-fulfillment fantasies is not the same thing as analysis.
Same as above.

Three: Extrapolating from speculations and stipulations mistreated as data will yield serially failed predictions, none of which amounts to foresight.
Foresight is about speculations on interesting outcomes that may follow from current facts, trends and theoretical models, not about detailed predictions with a date. Those who stay on the beaten path never find new places, and that’s why we need also scouts.

Four: There is nothing brave or useful or distinguished or progressive about saying magic would be cool if it were real, especially since there are so many real problems and real possibilities in the world that need all our bravery, pragmatism, special effort, and progressive struggle.
See comment to One. Many persons who say that magic would be cool if it were real, and try to make some magic real, are also actively engaged in more proximate problems and possibilities. Similarly, many persons who primarily focus on proximate problems and possibilities are also open to and interested in “future magic” speculations.

Five: Promoting as “experts” people with no training in actual professional or academic disciplines, celebrating the “genius” of high-tech billionaires of no real distinction, who have simply appropriated the invention and effort of countless uncelebrated others, and providing rationalizations for the “indispensability” of corporate-military elites who will presumably deliver us medical immortality, offer us nano-abundance, geo-engineer away our environmental catastrophes, and code for us perfect software god parent-substitutes, is not even remotely the same as having real thoughts, doing true philosophy, or making serious policy.
While I might agree with parts of this claim, other parts are just hate speech with no content. Labeling imaginative speculations on emerging technologies “rationalizations for the “indispensability” of corporate-military elites” makes very little sense.

Six: Subcultures that remain very static, very small, very marginal, very megalomaniacal, and very defensive tend to look and conduct themselves more like cults than subcultures.
Very true. I think one of the best examples is the Amor Mundi blog, where Carrico holds court with a handful of brainwashed followers who believe everything he says, and bans those who dare to disagree.

Seven: People who buy a Volkswagon, an Apple computer, or Diesel Jeans aren’t actually joining a political movement no matter what advertising executives say to the contrary, nor are people who watch BSG marathons, write Janeway shipper fanfic, work on a Steampunk casemod, or enjoy CLAMP cosplay actually engaging in political agitation no matter how personally resonant and edifying their experiences may be, or how interesting to ethnographers, nor are people who are invested in “The Future” of the futurologists — which amounts in some respects precisely to such marketing phenomena and in others precisely to such fandom phenomena — really joining or sustaining a political movement or engaged in political agitation in any remotely serious way.
See comment to One. Many persons who enjoy speculating about the future are also engaged in politics, and many political activists also enjoy speculating about the future.
It is interesting to note that, like many other transhumanists, I actually agree with most of Carrico’s politics. I support basic income, wealth redistribution, civil rights, abortion, gay marriage, etc. I do not share Carrico’s totalitarian though-policing attitude typical of the dullest “intellectual” left, but I have similar positions on most actual, concrete issues. I find it strange that Carrico dedicates so much energy to attacking and insulting persons with similar political ideas.

Eight: “The Future” is not Narnia, it is not Middle Earth, it is not the United Federation of Planets, it is not Hogwarts, it is not Heaven, it is not Hell — it will be a shared present attesting to stakeholder struggle just as this present is.
Also, water is wet.

Nine: What we mean by life happens in biological bodies, what we mean by intelligence happens in biological brains in society, what we mean by progress happens in historical struggles among the diversity of living intelligent beings who share the present — and to say otherwise is not to be interesting but to be idiotic.
I agree with the last point, “what we mean by progress happens in historical struggles among the diversity of living intelligent beings who share the present.” But the first two points are total BS based on a very weak and very stupid non-argument: “this is how things have always been, and therefore this is how things will continue to be forever.” Wake up, Dale. Nobody walked on the Moon before 1969, and same-sex persons could not marry in the U.S. before 2004.

Ten: We are all vulnerable, we are all promising, we are all more ignorant than we need to be, we are all more capable than we can know, we are all error-prone, we are all interdependent, we are all subject to chance, and we are all going to die.
Probably most persons alive today will die, but I look forward to science and technology permitting a very radical extension of the lifespan of future generations, in biological and non-biological bodies, beginning with today’s toddlers. The other points are true but, given the choice, I prefer being less vulnerable rather than more, less dependent on others rather than more, less ignorant and error-prone, and I will try to live as long as I can by using all available options and without any reverence and respect for the wisdom of nature and similar crap. This is just common sense.