What’s wrong with the Singularity as political strategy

Below are excerpts from Eric Hunting in a recent email discussion. I think this is a valuable insight that transcends any critique of transhumanism, but can be applied to similar cultural memes, like the expectation of a fundamental spiritual transformation of the world by 2012. Utopian or apocalyptic visions can actually demobilize because of their stress on inevitability.

Eric Hunting:

There’s nothing wrong with speculating about the future as long as you have established a specific path from the present and therefore have defined likely courses of action. That’s the line between futurism and science fiction. You are using the trends of the present to anticipate possible paths into the future, paths which can become plans of action or intervention. What bothers me about speculation on the Singularity are the presumptions of inevitability and imminence without any defined paths from the present and thus no proposed course of action. So, like the Rapture, it has to be perpetually imminent to have any meaning since there’s nothing the average person can do about it beyond guessing on investment in the right stock, waiting in hopeful anticipation, or attempting to will it into existence through some sort of communal form of neurolinguistic programming.

Such a shallow focus on the idealized end-result and the most advanced end-forms of technology can actually be detrimental to the goal of its realization because exaggerated expectations cause people to ignore or overlook the necessary near-term developments that need their support and participation. The more we focus exclusively on the post-Singularity the longer Singularity will take to accomplish because technology does NOT spontaneously advance by itself. This has been one of the key problems with space advocacy. Many NASA people curse Star Trek and science fiction in general for creating unrealistic expectations in an American population with a poor science education and a poor grasp of the line between reality and fantasy, thus making it that much harder for them to make a case for the relevance of what’s possible to do today. (not that NASA itself is entirely blameless in this itself, mind you…) Too much science fiction is just fantasy with machines because a lot of writers just don’t care about scientific plausibility or realistic visions of the future. Like the rest of the culture, it abandoned the actual future a long time ago. But the association with ‘science’ compels many to assume it must be more than mere fantasy. So far too many people expect the starship Enterprise and see anything less than that to be pointless folly or even part of some conspiracy of technology suppression. Certainly NASA may not be the most efficient at space development -their priorities in research are often irrational because of politics and aerospace industry nepotism- but they actually routinely get accused of conspiring to keep the warp drives, flying saucers, and antigravity under-wraps for the exclusive use of some secrete elite. I’ve encountered this kind of problem frequently with TMP. It’s very hard to relate in relevance the necessary lower-tech long-period activities one must do now to goals as lofty as wholesale solar-system settlement. It’s hard to get people to comprehend how starting a media production company, doing real estate development, or engaging in open source artifact development has any relevance to getting to space. And when reality can’t meet expectations -particularly the expectation of personally living in space in their lifetime- many people have no compulsion in adopting psuedo-scientific nonsense as a short-cut.

Now, it’s not fair to generalize here. A lot of people in the transhumanism community are indeed trying to define a specific path into the future, especially those who have a real grasp of actual science and technology. But there are others who, because they have no means to actually participate in advanced technology development in any practical way and have only a rudimentary understanding of it, just engage in that game of speculative fantasy for its own sake. Still, I’d rather see people thinking and talking about a positive future in any fashion than wallowing in the compulsive nostalgia, fantasy, cultural narcissism, and dystopianism that has marked the popular culture in the west for the past half a century.”

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