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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Questions about transhumanist anarchism

I came upon some interesting analysis at an anarchist transhumanist blog called @H+ :: Anarcho-Transhumanism. That site links to some of my work and, in a piece titled "Will Robots Spark the Revolution?" discusses an essay I wrote recently about robotics and class war. While the site is certainly an interesting one - and well written - the question I have after reading the response to my work is essentially three fold.

Before I get into that, I'd like to say that the @H+ article does raise some very interesting questions about the class war implications of robots. The piece seems like a genuine attempt to find points of crisis in capitalism that might be caused by the increasing use of these machines. I am in agreement, generally with speculation along these lines, particularly since this has been the history up until now. Said another way, speculation that the application of technology by the ruling class in the future will lead to potential class conflict jibes quite well with the past, given that they have previously imposed it in order to remake, disempower and impose precarity on the working class.

Still, the expansion of robotics into policing and the military will in all likelihood act as a force multiplier on the sheer ability of the ruling class to maintain order, even if such strikes become more surgical as technology permits more well-aimed attacks. Of course, as some suggest, perhaps the broad, clumsy hand of the human police offers certain advantages to an elite class facing a stiff and militant opposition. Either way, increasing flexibility of response will almost certainly be the trend as robots come online in these spheres.

This means that, while technology may indeed offer future potential points of class conflict, our position versus the ruling class may in fact get quite worse. If this is the case, then the only revolutionary scenario I can see is one that attacks technology broadly and directly with the aim of preventing further development. Such attacks would be progressive as far as a revolutionary project goes because it would seek to deny powerful weapons from the hands of the ruling class. Attacking technology, if only specific technologies, would be an attempt to open up space for open class struggle that otherwise would be eliminated by it. While it may be that some elements of these technologies will be adaptable to our fight, there is no reason to believe that these liberatory applications would amount to anything other than fringe benefits compared to the disproportionate power they will offer the ruling class. Which is natural, given that it is the ruling class that funds, develops and deploys tech.

Having said that, I would like to return now to my questions about anarchist transhumanism. First, when do the benefits of automation and computerization start tricking down? This is an important question because so far this has not happened. Despite a lot of evidence to the contrary, (for instance, boring work is dangerous work, and a huge section of our high tech workforce reports being bored off their asses at work these days) transhumanists' faith in tech includes the assertion that tech will free humans precisely from this dangerous or boring work. Nevertheless, despite decades of technological development, workers are still killed at astounding rates on the job that do not seem to reflect the rapid rate of automation or computerization. Further, work for many has only grown more routine and mind-numbing under these systems. Workplace deaths declined a mere 2 percent between 2004 and 2005, at the same time that deaths among foreign workers skyrocketed. Anarchist transhumanists tend to lay this at the feet of capitalism, but is this a sufficient explanation?

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, in a transhumanist society, we must ask just what mechanism will be in place to assure that any alleged benefits will be distributed in an egalitarian way? The development of technology appears to require massive state spending, as we saw with automation in the past and currently with all other major technologies (see yesterday's FT article, "Universities drive biotech advancement"). So, is the tendency of the ruling class to socialize its tech development and to manage it through a technocratic and engineering class merely a reflection of its desire to avoid spending its own money or get its hands too dirty, or is it in fact a prerequisite for a high tech society? Indeed, could high tech exist without massive state subsidy and a managerial class? What we do know is that currently it does not. And history suggests it cannot. If that is the case, what is to prevent this technocratic class, state or no state, from operating as a gateway or bureaucratic force, picking winners and losers and keeping the best applications and benefits for itself?

Thirdly, if this tech is developed under capitalism, why would the distribution of any benefits do anything other than mirror that system's skewed distribution mechanisms? That is, as a worker technology and automation de-skill me and undermine my power and income on the job in relation to the boss and the technocrats that through tech design my work environment. How would this cease to be the case in a transhumanist world? And what mechanism will be in place to make sure that when I am replaced by a computer at work, that I'm treated more like a lottery winner than a redundant deadbeat? That's how capitalism currently treats those replaced by tech, which I know first hand.

Likewise, what checks will be in place on the technocrats, technicians and scientists needed to maintain this high tech system? How will we say "no" to certain research or applications? Certainly the power that accrues in those privileged hands in a high tech society resembles quite eerily the "Red Bureaucracy" that Bakunin warned us would (and did) develop under communist states. Again, transhumanists on the left tend to lay the blame of such inequities at the feet of capitalism, but if high tech society requires a class of technocrats to maintain and research it and a socialist system to develop and deploy it, we should ask ourselves the tough question: does high tech require the state, hierarchy and domination? After all, it certainly seems to require them now.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I kind of feel about technology the same way Ghandi felt about civilization. It might be a good idea, but in the present reality it's just going to fuck us over.

Having said that, I really don't think that anysort of technology would be possible under the current mechanical framework without a huge division of labor, resource depletion, and pollution, etc.

-crudo

Tue May 08, 03:11:00 PM 2007  
Anonymous infomorph said...

good article and good questions -- I'll post a response as soon as I have time.

Tue May 08, 10:10:00 PM 2007  

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