Dale Carrico on Understanding Superlative Futurology

*You will never be immortal or even achieve a longevity sufficiently prolonged that you no longer have to face your present panic at the prospect of death.

* You will never be invulnerable and perfectly and effortlessly efficacious or anything near enough to afford the pretense.

* You will never overcome through an amplification of instrumental power the basic human condition of a world of dangerous, unpredictable, and promising contingency.

* You will never return to the infantile automatism of imagined plentitude via robot slaves or nanobotic genies in a bottle or virtual treasure caves or a Friendly Robot God parental-super-substitute.

*You will never overcome the ineradicable limits, frustrations, and redemptive promise of living in a world you share with a diversity of peers with whom you differ, and must contest, collaborate, communicate to acquire and achieve your aspirations.

Dale Carrico is relentless in his critique of transhumanist illusions, and his insistence on their political dangerousness, but in the incessant flow of blogposts, it’s easy to miss the big picture.

Here once again a good overview of why it matters.

Dale Carrico:

“Superlativity” as I use the term very specifically in my critique isn’t a synonym for “really big epochal technodevelopmental changes.” Like most technoscientifically literate people, I expect those, too, assuming we don’t destroy ourselves any time soon instead with our waste or with our weapons. Instead, Superlativity in my sense of the term names the effort to reductively redefine emancipation in primarily instrumental terms and then expansively reorient the project of that emancipation to the pursuit of personal “transcendence” through hyperbolic misconstruals of technoscientific possibility.

This personal transcendence is typically conceived in terms that evoke the customary omni-predicates of theology, transfiguring them into super-predicates that the futurological faithful personally identify with, but proselytize in the form of “predictions” of imaginary technodevelopmental outcomes. Nevertheless, superlativity in my view is a literary genre more than a research program. It relies for its force and intelligibility on the citation of other, specifically theological/ wish-fulfillment/ transcendentalizing discourses, more than it does on proper technoscience when all is said and done. It is a way of framing a constellation of descriptions mistaken for facts, and embedding them into a narrative that solicits personal identification, which then forms the basis for moralizing forms of sub(cult)ural advocacy.

The three super-predicates, recall, are superintelligence, superlongevity, and superabundance, and they correlate to the three theological omni-predicates — omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence. But like the avowed articles of faith of the omni-predicates with which they are correlated, these super-predicates are ultimately incapable of functioning as factual assertions at all, they are self-consuming quasi-factual placeholders for the brute assertion of faith itself. Indeed, superlative aspirations are conceptually confused to the point of illegibility, and their advocacy amounts to what is essentially a faith-based initiative.

But culture is not deification — technoscience will never purchase omni-predication, omnipotence, omniscience, omnibenevolence — and never will some robotic deployment of superlative technique deliver the secularized analogues to the damaging daydream of a deity the Robot Cultists are indulging in, superintelligence, superlongevity, and the circumvention via superabundance of the impasse of stakeholder politics in a world shared with a diversity of peers.

Prostheses are just culture. Technology is just the prosthetic elaboration of agency. Agency is our effort to achieve and maintain social legibility, accomplish ends, and make sense of our lives in a diverse abiding material world that both enables and frustrates us in this. Freedom is our word for that experience. Freedom cannot be reduced to instrumentality, what we want of our technique and what we make of it is conditioned fundamentally by its play in an absolutely unpredictable interminable diversity of peers and their works.

There is no “overcoming” to be had of these limits, however many present limits and customs we overturn, inasmuch as finitude as such is literally the constitutive condition of the very experience of freedom we cherish. The superlative futurologists would idiotically obliterate freedom in their clumsy wrongheaded infantile wish-fulfillment fantasy of a toypile so high it reaches Heaven, of an endlessly amplified instrumental power that transcends freedom and delivers superlative variations on an omnipredicated godhead.

Each of the super-predicates of superlative discourse amounts to a personal investment in a stealthy article of faith proffered up as endlessly-deferred scientific “predictions.” Confronted with such superlative utterances it is entirely beside the point to indulge in what appear to be “technical” disputes about the validity of the scientific claims that are hyperbolized into rationales for superlative articles of faith or to debate technodevelopmental timelines for superlative “outcomes.” To indulge superlative futurologists in these preferred arguments is as little scientific as debating the number of angels who can dance on a pin-head with a monk or pouring over Nostradamus with some disasterbatory enthusiast to “determine” the exact date the world will end.

The phenomenological payoff for the True Believer, so long as these conversations play out in real time, is to confer onto their imaginary object of faith a substantial reality that the object itself cannot otherwise attain. It is better for everyone not to indulge this sort of irrationality at all, and certainly not to confuse this sort of thing with actual science or actual policy discourse to the cost of the indispensable work these enterprises actually do. Or, at any rate, one should understand this sort of thing as an essentially idiosyncratic aesthetic or moral matter on the part of its enthusiasts and treat it (even celebrate it as one always can appreciate kooky marginal fandoms) as one would comparable enthusiasms in their proper precinct.”

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