The State Needs Crime

By | December 13th, 2014

In Saturday Night Live‘s parody of Citizen Kane, on a slow news day Charles Foster Kane says, “if there’s not any news, we’ll make some,” and begins randomly shooting people out the newspaper office window. That’s the first thing I thought of on reading reports that two plainclothes California Highway Patrol cops found themselves outed — in the process of attempting to instigate looting by protesters! — during a march through Oakland and Berkeley against two recent grand jury decisions not to indict cops who had killed unarmed black men.

That’s right, attempting to instigate looting — you didn’t misread. According to eyewitnesses livetweeting from the demonstration, the two officers — posing as demonstrators — were would-be “instigators of looting” (Courtney Harrop, “Undercover Cops Outed and Pulled Guns on Crowd,” Storify, December 11, 2013). Protesters in the group they were attempting to infiltrate spotted them as fakes and outed them to the rest of the crowd. One of the panicked cops, captured in a photograph that immediately went viral, pulled his gun and began threatening the surrounding marchers.

Police provocateurs as instigators of crime is an old narrative. As Earth First! organizer Judi Bari famously said, “the person that offers to get the dynamite is always the FBI agent.” From the December 1999 Seattle protests on, the anti-globalization movement was rife with rumors of undercover cops always being the first to suggest smashing store windows. Nearly every “terror cell” busted by the FBI since 9/11 turned out to have been organized every step of the way by federal agents. Indeed the “terrorists” were usually so incompetent they could barely function even with FBI guidance.

Just as Charles Foster Kane manufactured news where there was none, the state manufactures crime where none would otherwise exist.

It does this, in the first instance, to create a pretext for using violence to suppress its immediate critics — the protesters against corporate globalization, the Occupiers, marchers outraged by racial injustice. The state always attempts to tarnish any movement circulating the message that “Another World is Possible” or casting doubt on the legitimacy of the existing system of power. It has done this by dismissing them as “reds,” “anarchists” and “outside agitators” — as in the post-Haymarket repression and the post-WWI Red Scare — and if necessary by simply fabricating crime.

But beyond that, the state needs us afraid so we’ll be willing to grant it power. A society made up of people who trust rather than fear each other, confident in their own ability to keep themselves safe through peaceful cooperation with their neighbors, is an inhospitable breeding ground for state power. The state needs crime — even if it has to invent it.

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The Warning of Animal Farm: Inequality Matters

By By David S. D’Amato

Recently, in a comment on my short piece, “The Libertarian Road to Egalitarianism,” philosopher and prominent libertarian Tibor R. Machan cited George Orwell’s Animal Farm as an example of what happens when we attempt to do something about inequality. To Machan, inequality is a “fabricated problem,” and Orwell’s fairy story is a cautionary tale on the dangers of trying to remedy it.

Upon reading his comment, I was somewhat nonplussed, for it had never occurred to me to read Animal Farm in such a way. Indeed, since reading the novel for the first time, I have understood it to offer a warning almost antithetical to that of Machan’s reading.

It seemed to me then, as now, that Orwell’s Animal Farm in fact counsels on the problems with inequality, the results of granting special rights and privileges to some politically connected ruling class. Orwell skillfully illustrates the fundamental problem with political authority, its inherent conflict, that confronted with the incentives which favor abuses of power, lofty philosophical ideals are readily discarded. Orwell’s whole point is that the pigs never actually take their rhetoric about equality and reestablishing the farm on fairer terms seriously — that they almost immediately begin to take advantage of their distinctly unequal position on the farm to exploit the rest of the animals and hoard the luxuries for their own private use and enjoyment.

Animal Farm thus succinctly demonstrates the connection between political power and economic power. When inequality in the former is instituted as a matter of legal fact, inequality in the latter follows unavoidably. Free market libertarians are often uncomfortable with the left’s condemnations of economic inequality, arguing that in principle libertarianism can take no issue with inequality itself.

After all, if we favor individual rights, open competition, and private property, we ought to accept whatever results they yield. Strictly speaking, that’s all true enough. It seems to me, however, that a thoroughgoing libertarian critique of society as it is today must include a critique of economic inequality as a symptom of the lack of economic freedom and the persistent interferences of political power to favor and enrich a rich elite. In his biographical study of Thomas Hodgskin, historian David Stack describes Hodgskin’s belief that “the worker could be liberated by the full application of bourgeois morality.”

For Hodgskin, Stack writes, “Inequality and misery, social order and the anti-peace” were all functions of the law, artificially imposed and not the result of “any inherent inequalities in the system of production.” If existing economic injustices flowed from the operation of positive law, then “socialist strictures against laissez faire were mistaken.” Hodgskin lived and wrote in a time when it was easier to articulate a view that was both liberal and socialist. The underappreciated legacy of thinkers like Hodgskin makes the case (frequently made at the Center for a Stateless Society today) that libertarians ought to be wary of embracing the term “capitalism,” and trumpeting it as a thing that we favor.

Like Hodgskin, today’s market anarchists do not object to the mere fact that capital is compensated for its part in the process of production. The worry — which can only finally be allayed by observing a now hypothetical free market and finding out — is that capital is overcompensated due to a position of privilege which the State confers on it. “One is almost tempted to believe,” wrote Hodgskin, “that capital is a sort of cabalistic word, like Church or State, or any other of those general terms which are invented by those who fleece the rest of mankind to conceal the hand that shears them.

It is a sort of idol before which men are called upon to prostrate themselves . . . .” Among Hodgskin’s central insights, habitually overlooked by most free marketers, is the idea that the fact of exchange in and of itself does not prove the absence of exploitation. Unequal exchange is exploitative insofar as one party to the exchange has an unfair advantage, one gained from the coercive prevention or restriction of competition. Considered on the micro level, unequal exchange might manifest in, for example, the employment relationship or an agreement for consumer goods or services. On a larger scale, unequal exchange analyses may aid our understanding of the way that the poor, developing world interacts economically with the rich and developed West.

​In the world of Animal Farm, the pigs employed violence as a way to preserve their position of power; the other animals worked increasingly long hours for less and less, with the pigs ruling as lords of Animal Farm — the name of which was eventually changed back to its original name, Manor Farm. The original mantra, “All animals are equal,” is gradually, almost imperceptibly supplanted by the idea that “some animals are more equal than others.” Machan’s interpretation of Animal Farm forgets that Orwell was a socialist, and as Orwell scholar Craig L. Carr observes, the famous novel is straightforwardly warning about the “betrayal of the egalitarian ideal.”

Following the pigs’ revolution, the ouster of Mr. Jones, “[a]n economic system that legitimates material inequality remained in place.” Orwell is interested in the use of language. In all his work, including Animal Farm, political fustian is the mechanism through which the noble goals of the revolution are “rendered consistent with the privilege and superior position of the upper class.” The language of libertarianism and free markets is analogously important to the beneficiaries of economic privilege. Without it, people would recognize corporate power for what it is, a creation of political violence and coercion, a class system as real, observable and quantifiable as any before it.

Criticizing inequality ought to be important to libertarianism to the extent that we take our own free market ideas seriously and see the political economy of today as far removed from our model. Libertarians should accordingly welcome socialism and class analysis as found in the work of leftists like Hodgskin and Orwell. It’s time we start emphasizing liberty and equality, not liberty or equality.

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Gaza Is a Transhumanist Issue!

By Summerspeaker

Transhumanists as a rule may prefer to contemplate implants and genetic engineering, but few if any violations of morphological freedom exceed being torn to pieces by shrapnel or dashed against concrete by an overpressure wave. In this piece I argue that the settler-colonial violence in occupied Palestine relates to core aspects of modernity and demands futurist attention both emotionally and intellectually.

The latest intensification of conflict in Gaza – the Israeli Defense Force’s Operation Protective Edge – has already killed hundreds of Palestinian civilians, left thousands more injured, and displaced tens of thousands. British- and U.S.-made munitions have been raining down on homes, schools, and hospitals in Gaza. Viscous racism and misogyny fuel the fire, with prominent Israeli Martin Sherman even calling for the forced relocation or death of every Palestinian in Gaza.

Promoted as smart and precise, laser-guided explosives in this engagement yet again fail to deliver the dream of neat and tidy war where only combatants perish. Instead, here the high-tech surveillance and targeting systems lead to old-fashioned results: death, maiming, sorrow, and terror. The rhetoric of smart, high-tech weapons primarily serves to district from the visceral horror at hand. In the case of the Iron Dome defense system, technology may be fostering violence. Certainly war profiteers are doing their thing.

In addition to the military technology involved, Israel stands out as a center of technological innovation and darling of the technophile community. Hank Pellissier has promoted Israel as a transhumanist beacon on IEET previously. Tech business continues to boom in Israel despite the violence. This dynamic illustrates how the technological advancement central to transhumanism and technoprogressivism has an intimate connection with the current bloodshed in Gaza. Israeli scientists seek breakthroughs while Israeli bombs break Palestinian bones.

Israel’s “Iron Dome” Technology

In technoprogressive terms, the costs, risks, and benefits of innovations and the existing apparatus of technoscience aren’t justly distributed in Palestine. Anyone so much as sympathetic to technoprogressivism must regard the massacre in Gaza as shameful and tragic. Israel has long been chastised by the United Nations, albeit impotently, for violations of international law. The recent deadly mortar attack on U.N. School in Gaza constitutes a particularly egregious example of Israeli war crimes. Thousands upon thousands have taken to streets across the world to condemn the current violence, and various states – especially in Latin America – have officially rebuked the Israeli government. Global public opinion appears to be turning against Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank in unprecedented fashion.

I encourage all transhumanists, technoprogressives, futurists, and so on to seriously reflect on what the relationship between innovation and militarism means, both in Palestine and more broadly. I recommend against the temptation to dismiss the so-called Arab-Israeli conflict as some primitive or retrograde dynamic that will necessarily fade away amid ever-advancing technological progress. To the contrary, settler colonialism – the primary cause of violence in Palestine – constitutes one of the cornerstones of modernity and remains key in the present day. Western rationality and technoscience themselves come out of the modern crucible that includes colonialism and white supremacy.

Like the United States before it, the state of Israel emerged via settler colonialism and continuities rely on the elimination of Indigenous autonomy, community, and lives. Zionist settlers arrived in Palestine with a mission to dispossess the preexisting population and create a new Jewish-dominated polity. In both Israel and the United States, technoscience relies on stolen land soaked in the blood of earlier inhabitants.

What does the heartbreaking history and present of settler colonialism mean to the transhumanist and technoprogressive projects? Countless possible responses exist, including fervent denial and total despair. For myself I consider transhumanism unavoidably but not hopelessly enmeshed in colonialism. The transhumanism I practice and promote – anarchist transhumanism – takes opposition to all oppression as its centerpiece. I support local efforts to show how Israeli settler colonialism connects to settler colonialism here in New Mexico, end U.S. aid to Israel, and advance the BDS Movement.

As I’ve argued previously, within an empiricist epistemology there’s no doubt that industrial civilization rests on a foundation of vast human suffering. That’s the abyss that confronts anyone who contemplates the state the world and the prospects for improvement. Present atrocities in Gaza provide a window into the abyss. I urge all futurists and techno-visionaries to carefully confront it. I for one have no interest in reiterating the status quo by building the fabulous future on a heap of human skulls.

We can and must do so much better.

(Maps and images added to this article by Kris Notaro | More maps can found at The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions: ICAHD website)

The UN Partition Plan tried to divide the country according to demographic concentrations, but the Palestinian and Jewish populations were so intertwined that that became impossible. Although the Jews comprised only a third of the country’s population (548,000 out of 1,750,000) and owned only 6% of the land, they received 55% of the country (including both Tel Aviv/Jaffa and Haifa port cities, the Sea of Galilee and the resource-rich Negev). In the area allocated to the Jewish state, only about 57% of the population was actually Jewish (538,000 Jews, 397,000 Arabs). The Jewish community accepted the Partition Plan; the Palestinians (except those in the Communist Party) and the Arab countries rejected it.

In 1967 Israel annexed an area of 70 sq. kms., which it called “East” Jerusalem, to the 38 sq. kms. that had comprised Israeli “West” Jerusalem since 1948, even though the Palestinian side of the city under Jordan was just 6 sq. kms. It gerrymandered the municipal border according to two principles: incorporating as much unbuilt-upon Palestinian land as possible for future Israeli settlements (depicted in blue), while excluding as much of the Palestinian population as possible so as to maintain a 72% Jewish majority in the city. As the concentrations of Palestinian population show (in brown), the municipal border cut in half a living urban fabric of communities, families, businesses, schools, housing and roads. Its placement of settlements prevents the urban development of Palestinian Jerusalem – the economic and cultural as well as religious center of Palestinian life – transforming its residential and commercial areas into disconnected enclaves. There are today more Israelis living in “East” Jerusalem (more than 200,000) than Palestinians. Since Palestinians cannot live in “West” Jerusalem, Israeli restrictions on building (combined with an aggressive campaign of house demolitions) have confined that population to a mere 6% of the urban land – although they are a third of the Jerusalem population. Discriminatory administrative and housing measures have led to the “Quiet Transfer” of thousands of Palestinian families out of the city, and to the loss of their Jerusalem residency.

(Maps and images added to this article by Kris Notaro | More maps can found at The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions: ICAHD website)

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Primitivism, Progress, the Transhuman & the Technological Avalanche

Adam Ford talks with John Zerzan about Primitivism, Progress, the Transhuman & the Technological Avalanche.
Why can’t we solve the problem of the progress trap with the use of technology?

It is through technology (i.e. computation) we really understand how fragile the environment is, approach understanding butterfly effects

Describe the incremental progress to Primitivism?
Were we ever purely biological? Without artifacts and instruments? Where do you draw the line…how primitive are we talking? where do you draw the line? what sorts of technology are ok?

is Primitivism an all or nothing approach? Can it co-exist with Transhumanism?
ability to encode ideals/philosophies with or without advanced language and recording?

Technological advancements in bio-engineering, nanotechnology, cybernetics, amongst others, have the potential to be progress traps, and the global scale of modern society means that a societal collapse could impact all of mankind.

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Video by C4SS: Property The Least Bad Option

C4SS Feed 44 presents ‘s “Property The Least Bad Option” read by Stephen Leger and edited by Nick Ford.

We would be much better off if we weren’t tormented by scarcity. There would be no conflict or potential for conflict over physical goods. This hypothetical world — one of superabundance or post-scarcity or infinite supply or infinite reproducibility or whatever you want to call it — is preferable to both options presented in the libertarian dichotomy. Superabundance would also obviate and overcome other undesirable corollaries of scarcity, including opportunity cost, supply and demand, and ultimately economy itself. Unfortunately, this world doesn’t exist.

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It’s Not the Technology That Causes “Technological Unemployment”

By Kevin Carson. Discussions of technological change in the media are generally coupled with discussions of technological unemployment and the increasing polarization of wealth. A good example is a piece by Eduardo Porter in the New York Times (“Tech Leaps, Job Losses and Rising Inequality,” April 15). Amid talk of all the technological wonders issuing from Silicon Valley, Porter observes that in recent years employers have seized on the falling cost of capital relative to labor that results from such improvements as an opportunity to substitute capital for labor.

The effect has been growing technological unemployment and the capture of most economic growth in the form of exploding wealth for the already super-wealthy.

The phenomenon of capital cheapening relative to labor should raise an obvious question, but of course it does not because we have been conditioned to think of work as something we are given by the owning and employing classes in the form of “jobs” rather than something we do.

About eighty years ago Albert Nock remarked on how odd it was, considering all the vacant land held out of use and all the unemployed labor available to work it, that work was viewed as something given by the employer. Today, likewise, when we hear that workers are unemployed because employers use radically cheapening production tools as a substitute for labor, the question that should — but doesn’t — automatically come to mind is “If the tools are so cheap, why don’t we just use them to work for ourselves and let the employers eat their money?” After all the reason for the factory and wage systems in the first place was a technological shift from cheap, general-purpose craft tools that individual workers could afford to extremely expensive large-scale machinery that only the rich could afford to buy, and then hire others to work.

Now six months factory wages will buy a shop full of open-source tabletop CNC machine tools that can produce goods that once required a million-dollar factory. Since we’re experiencing a shift back to a high-tech version of cheap, general-purpose craft tools, why do we need the wage system at all? Why not work cooperatively and organize our own horizontal mechanisms for pooling risk, providing mutual aid and insuring against sickness and poverty?

The answer is that a whole host of institutional and legal mechanisms exist precisely to keep us from doing so.

The term “technological unemployment” is a wrongheaded way of framing the issue. When technological improvement results in less work to produce the same standard of living, that’s a good thing. That’s why we have a standard work week of forty hours in the U.S. today, as opposed to 70 or 80 as in the early days of the Industrial Revolution.

The problem is not that it takes fewer hours of work to produce what we consume, but that there’s not a proportional drop in the number of hours we have to work to pay for what we consume. And the ultimate source of that problem is not the technology, but who owns it; it’s the wrong people substituting labor for technology. Rather than workers substituting technology for our own labor in order to live better, what we have is those who own the technology and hire labor to work it substituting technology for the labor of those they pay wages.

An observation by Tyler Cowen in Porter’s article inadvertently gives this away.

…[H]e looks around the world to find the relatively scarce factors of production and finds two: natural resources, which are dwindling, and good ideas, which can reach larger markets than ever before.

If you possess one of those, then you will reap most of the rewards of growth. If you don’t, you will not.

Exactly. When we own all the benefits of increasing our efficiency, we celebrate anything that results in less work. A farmer who finds a way to grow just as much corn with half the labor, she doesn’t lament being “put out of work,” because all the benefits accrue to her.

On the other hand our maldistribution of wealth results from who currently owns both the natural resources and the ideas. But neoliberal economics treats that pattern of ownership as a fact of nature, and the laws of economics as a neutral means by which market-clearing prices are established under any circumstances regardless of the pattern of ownership. So to address the problem we have to look at the structure of the economy, not as something that just happened, but something with causes — and motives! — behind it.

Capitalism is not some universal phenomenon of nature governed by neutral rules. It had a beginning in history. And that beginning was far from spontaneous or inevitable. For example, the concentrated ownership of natural resources and arable land that Cowen talks about results from a process of violent robbery in late medieval and early modern times in Europe, and more recently in the colonial world. Before the Industrial Revolution most arable land of Britain had been enclosed by landed elites, and the peasantry transformed into a propertyless proletariat with no alternative but to sell their labor on whatever terms were offered by the owning classes.

In settler societies like North America and Australia, states preempted ownership of land and then granted it to land barons who fenced it off and charged rents to those who would work it. The Enclosures were reenacted in the Third World in colonial and post-colonial times, with tens and hundreds of millions of peasants evicted from land that is now owned by local landed elites and used to grow cash crops for export.

The oil and mineral wealth of the world, likewise, was enclosed by colonial authorities and then doled it out to Western-owned extractive industries. The mineral wealth of southern Africa, for example, and the oil fields of Nigeria and Indonesia that are protected from the local population by death squads hired by Shell. Or the federal lands that passed directly into the government domain from France and Mexico, to which extractive industries like oil, mining, lumber and ranching now have preferential access.

Cowen’s other category, the “ownership” of ideas, is especially key to the corporate enclosure of technological progress as a source of rents. “Intellectual property” is the reason that a Windows or Office CD costs $200, as opposed to Open Office or Ubuntu for $5, and a pill that costs Pfizer a dime to produce costs you five bucks. It’s the reason most of the price of your consumer electronics and appliances comes from embedded rents on patents, rather than labor and material.

Patents and trademarks play the same protectionist role for global corporations today that tariffs did for national corporations a century ago, only they operate at the boundaries between corporations and the rest of the world rather than the boundaries between nations. But just like patents, they restrict who has the right to sell what in a given market. It’s only because of “intellectual property” that Nike can outsource all its actual production to independently owned sweatshops for $5 a pair and charge a $200 Swoosh markup in Western retail chains: Nike has a legal monopoly on the right to decide who produces a certain kind of sneakers, and a legal monopoly on disposal of the product.

Both the absentee ownership of land and resources that were not acquired through direct labor, and the ownership of ideas, are examples of the same phenomenon: Artificial property rights. Franz Oppenheimer argued, in The State, that economic exploitation was possible only when all independent access to productive opportunities had been enclosed, so that employers no longer had to compete for labor with the possibility of self-employment. Having erected these toll gates, the propertied classes are able to charge tribute for access to the basic means of production and subsistence, and charge a monopoly markup on the necessities of life.

The natural outcome of a free and competitive market, when it comes to the fruits of technological progress, is communism. Competition causes the productivity and efficiency benefits of new technology to be socialized in the form of imploding consumer prices and shortened work weeks. Artificial property rights in ideas, on the other hand, enable corporations and plutocrats to enclose these benefits as a private source of rents. And artificial property rights in land and natural resources — like, for example, the Enclosures in Britain 250 years ago — close off competing opportunities for self-employment and comfortable subsistence and leave people with no alternative but to compete for the dwindling supply of jobs that is left.

So the question is not whether technological progress is beneficial, but who owns the benefit: A state-allied class of parasitic rentiers, or us?

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Transhumanism and Anti-Imperialism: Why Technoprogressives should say ‘U.S. hands off Syria!’

By B. J. Murphy. As President Obama has continuously sound off the war drums against Syria, and as the people anxiously wait for a response by Congress as to whether or not another U.S. war against a sovereign Middle Eastern country is ethically desirable, the technoprogressive left of the Transhumanist movement has all but declared a voice in this debate.


Do we stand with the status quo and declare that U.S. imperial intervention is necessary, or do we draw a line and declare opposition to any imperial war moves by the U.S. govt. in respect and solidarity to Syria’s right to self-determination and sovereignty?

Where do we stand?

As Technoprogressives, we stand for the rights of workers, immigrants, LGBTQ and post-gender, nonhuman persons, etc. What differentiates us from the rest of the liberal and revolutionary left, though, is that we also stand for the rights of sentient beings in whatever form they take, which includes robotics. We stand for the individual’s right to choose how long they wish to live and subsequently when they wish to die and how.

The problem though is: War is death. No matter which side of the conflict – whether they are a nationalist authoritarian govt. or a group of religious fundamentalist terrorists – death is an inevitability for each during a time of war. The innocent are caught in cross fire as men, women, and children – combatants and non – are killed by means of gunfire, bombings, and chemical weapons.

Where are these individuals’ right to choose how long they wish to live, or when they wish to die and how? Do we even have a real say in the matter that doesn’t result in further fatal conflicts?

During internal conflicts, as being witnessed in Syria, matters such as that aren’t up to those of us looking in from the outside. The conditions of each country is only understood by those who live within those conditions and have a viable grasp in deciding what their own peoples’ path should take. The U.S. govt., on the other hand, has decided that the Syrian people have no right in declaring which path they take, whether it’s with an Islamic fundamentalist ruling or a secular nationalist one. Instead the U.S. govt. feels that, regardless who is using chemical weapons – a question that has yet to be answered by the United Nations who’s recently finished an investigation on the matter – it is the Assad regime that must be overthrown.

It doesn’t matter if the Syrian people feel the same way, or the contrary, the U.S. govt. knows best for Syria – just as they supposedly knew best for Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, etc. Never mind the repercussions of igniting another pointless, disastrous war, fueled by a profit-driven foreign policy of imperialist adventurism – the U.S. govt. knows best for Syria.

A right to not be killed by a foreign govt.(?)

We must make it an important matter to say that we are against imperialism! We may not be the deciders of civil wars in foreign lands, but we are the deciders of whether or not our own govt. should ignite war as well and for what purpose. When the U.S. govt. had entered WWII, it was only after we’d been attacked by Imperial Japan and it became obvious to us that Nazi Germany was on a war path for global dominance.

Are we in a similar position today? Has Syria become a threat to the U.S. and its inhabitants? No. The civil war being waged within Syria is just that – a civil war.

Where the Syrian people on both sides are witnessing destruction, death, and mayhem, they do not deserve having to face an equal hand in such by a foreign govt. This also includes economic sanctions – an overt means of economic strangulation in which harms the targeted country’s peoples more so than its govt. Do the Syrian people not have a say in what happens to their own country, and consequently to themselves, especially in the hands of foreign govt.’s?

Where do our efforts belong?

The trillions of dollars going into imperialist war efforts is much needed money that isn’t going into more important programs – programs that us technoprogressive Transhumanists have declared our own struggle to ensure and improve, such as education, energy distribution, healthcare, etc. Where money is being funneled in for war efforts in Afghanistan, and here soon Syria, nearly 20% of our scientists have openly stated they’d leave the country due to budget cuts.

As our country continues to rely on fossil fuels for energy, our students aren’t getting a good education without massive federal debt, medical care still being withheld from millions of our citizenry, and our own space program – NASA – is being ignored by our own govt., having to rely on nonprofit efforts like Penny4NASA, we continue declaring war and death the right of the global people. This is unacceptable.

We fixate on troubles occurring overseas, but completely ignore our own faults. Today, here in the U.S., we run the largest prison system in the world, with the vast majority of its prisoners coming from low-wage Black communities – a community that only makes up 12% of the entire U.S. population. Where unemployment is still affecting over 7% of the population, and underemployment 15%, overemployment is negatively affecting the working class, in which over 2/3 have declared they’d opt for less hours even if it meant less wages. As automation continues progressing in the workforce, we’re leaving those with no jobs on the streets and the rest working in jobs that are gruesomely paid little with hardly any benefits. We’re stuck having debates in Congress over whether or not we should go to war, when instead we should be having debates in Congress over whether or not our people should be granted a Basic Income Guarantee!

This dilemma we find ourselves in is the result of remaining voiceless. We hide in the shadows, hoping that our lack of action is seen as being sufficient enough to be taken serious by mainstream America. The consonance of Transhumanism and anti-imperialism is a long overdue calling card of the technoprogressive left! A war with Syria isn’t just a death sentence of foreign peoples who have witnessed nothing else but death, but is a death sentence of our own people as well.

Here which lies before you is a socio-economic system that profits not on human rights – let alone cyborg and post-human rights! – but on the declaration of the right of the people to misery and death. So long we continue waging wars, the more we continue neglecting our own peoples’ rights, freedoms, and lives.

If we are to declare war, let us declare war on poverty, not the poor; let us declare war on oppression, not the oppressed; let us declare war on death, not life!

U.S. hands off Syria!

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Is Transhumanism Compatible with Anarchism?

By John Danaher

Transhumanists want to liberate themselves from the limitations of the human body. Anarchists want to liberate themselves from the limitations of contemporary human social structures. You might think that these two goals are compatible: that the liberatory ethos of transhumanism could complement that of anarchism.

But according to an article by Kolovuo and Karageorgakis (hereinafter “KK”) this is not the case. Starting with the example of eco-anarchism and moving on to more traditional forms of social anarchism, these authors argue that there is an incompatibility between transhumanist and anarchist ideals. In this post, I want to look to take a look at their arguments.

​ I do so by following, in broad outlines, the structure of their own discussion. Thus, I begin by looking at the concept of human nature and the role it plays in both philosophies, then I look at the argument for the incompatibility of eco-anarchism and transhumanism, and I conclude by considering the argument for the incompatibility of social anarchism and transhumanism. (I’ll exclude any discussion of eco-anarchism and bioconservatism, which although it appears in their paper, doesn’t really interest me.)

Before getting to all that, however, I want to make a comment about KK’s general style of argumentation. Much of their article involves quoting from transhumanist sources, noting the apparent compatibility of the statements in those sources with anarchist principles, but then going on to suggest that other statements, or the implications of thereof, are really inconsistent with anarchist principles. This creates the following pattern of argumentation:

Transhumanist writers are committed to proposition X. 

Prima facie, proposition X is compatible with anarchism. 

But either proposition X has implication Y or transhumanists also say Y, and Y is incompatible with anarchism. 

Therefore, transhumanism is incompatible with anarchism.

I worry about this style of argument. I think “transhumanism” is a pretty broad school of thought, one whose core commitments are not fully worked out nor, indeed, appreciated by individual authors (and arguably the same is true of anarchism, though it has been around for longer). Consequently, I would be cautious about arguments that purport to demonstrate the incompatibility of such a broad school of thought with another broad school of thought. An argument that is limited to the views of particular authors is more likely to be successful (and KK’s arguments could be reinterpreted in this manner) but even then the opacity of certain key concepts — e.g. “freedom” and “nature” — make it difficult to assess. We will encounter some of these difficulties below.

1. Three Conceptions of Human Nature
Anarchism is fundamentally an ideology of human emancipation, specifically emancipation from statist control. If there is one thing that anarchists can agree on, it is that the dominating control that the state exercises over our lives is a bad thing, and that it needs to be eliminated. Freeing us from state control will allow us to prosper as human beings, to realise a happier and more harmonious form of life. Anarchists tend to diverge somewhat on the precise form of that life, with libertarian-anarchists emphasising individuality and freedom of exchange, and anarcho-syndicalists emphasising community and co-operative exchange.

The debate between anarchists and their critics is often cashed-out in terms of competing views of human nature. Defenders of the state usually cling to a Hobbesian conception of human nature. Anarchists cling to a more Rousseauian conception. These can be defined as follows:

Hobbesian Human Nature: Human beings are fundamentally (or, at least when left without state control) individualistic, competitive and violent. Without state control, human society would collapse into a war of all against all.

Rousseauian Human Nature: Human beings are fundamentally communitarian, cooperative and benevolent (“nothing can be more gentle than man in his natural state”). It is state control that distorts this fundamentally good nature.

These conceptions are almost certainly an over-simplification of Hobbes and Rousseau’s actual views, but they serve as useful extremes within which we can frame the debate. Thus, even if anarchists don’t fully embrace the Rousseauian extreme, they tend to be closer to that end of the spectrum than their critics. And those critics, in turn, may not fully embrace the Hobbesian extreme, but they tend to be wary about human nature in the absence of state control.

KK acknowledge quite a lot of complexity in this debate. Anarchists are often critiqued for having a naive and wildly inconsistent approach to human “nature”. On the one hand, they tend to assume that present social structures have immense power to reshape and distort the fundamentally good human nature; on the other hand, they tend to downplay any evidence suggesting that we are biologically inclined towards certain forms of violence or non-cooperative behaviour. The problem here may be that the concept of “nature” itself is highly opaque. Is the natural that which is fixed? Or that which is bequeathed to us by evolution? Or is it just that which will express itself in the absence of state control? It’s not entirely clear. As a result it’s not surprising to find some anarchists — KK cite the example of Eckersley — talking about both our potential and essential natures. I’m not sure any of this is helpful. I think what tends to matter is whether human behaviour can be readily altered in morally preferable ways and what methods are best for achieving this.

Anyway, KK think that transhumanists have their own conception of human nature. This conception leans somewhat in the Hobbesian direction (in the sense that it is negative rather than positive) but focuses predominantly on the limitations and restrictions posed by our current biological form. Thus, transhumanists lament the limited cognitive powers, physical capacities and lifespans that are currently made possible by human biology. They urge us to use our intelligence and our technologies to transcend those limitations:

Transhumanist Human Nature: Our natures are primarily constituted by the limitations of our biological form. These limitations are negative. We must use our intelligence and technology to transcend those limitations.

Still, there is some nuance here too because occasionally you may find transhumanists saying that it is “in our nature” to transcend ourselves, i.e. to use our natural rational capacities to transcend our limitations. Again, the vocabulary of “nature” isn’t particularly illuminating.

2. Transhumanism and Eco-Anarchism
Illuminating or not, the “nature”-related discourse dominates KK’s discussion of transhumanism and eco-anarchism. This is for the obvious reason that eco-anarchism is characterised by the belief that contemporary society not only exerts dominating control over human beings, but over the entire natural world as well. It is the goal of eco-anarchists to end this dominating control. Thus, just as we must stop exploiting our fellow human beings for gain, so too we must stop exploiting nature in order to grease the wheels of the capitalism. Instead, we must develop a more harmonious and cooperative relationship with one another and with nature.

KK think that transhumanism is incompatible with the eco-anarchist goal. KK are frustratingly opaque in their development of this argument. The following is simply my attempt to read between the lines:

  • (1) Eco-anarchism is committed to the goal of ending human domination of nature (i.e. of freeing nature from human domination).
  • (2) Transhumanism is committed to the goal of dominating, expropriating and redesigning nature.
  • (3) Therefore, the ideologies are incompatible.

The first premise of this argument is what I derive from KK’s brief discussion of eco-anarchism. I think it is a fair, albeit stipulative definition of their position. The second premise is where the action is. One problem with it — that KK readily acknowledge — is that many transhumanists have explicitly said and endorsed seemingly contrary views. Thus, for example, they cite Nick Bostrom and James Hughes as disavowing speciesist approaches to moral status. They might also have cited David Pearce (co-founder of the World Transhumanist Association, now Humanity+), who is a vegan and who has long argued that we have an obligation to end the suffering of non-human animals. Advocacy of renewable and sustainable energy sources is also found among transhumanists. And indeed, pro-environment principles are incorporated into the Transhumanist Declaration. So what’s the problem?

According to KK, the problem is that despite these explicit endorsements, transhumanists really — when you look at it in more depth — do not value the natural world in and of itself. Thus, despite their claim to value all forms of sentient life, KK submit that transhumanists really only care about intelligent life. They have a couple of examples of this, one being that Bostrom’s concept of existential risk only seems to cover risks to intelligent life. Furthermore, they cite James Hughes as arguing that the ultimate goal of transhumanism is to supplant the natural with the designed, i.e. to use human intelligence to reshape nature in a better way. This suggests a dominating attitude toward nature and leads KK to label transhumanists as “mis-naturalists” (like mis-anthropes, only that their distaste spreads to all natural things).

I think there are two problems with this argument. The first has to do with the general method of argumentation, which I worried about in the introduction to this post. To defend their position, KK must argue that the transhumanists who claim to be committed to pro-nature and pro-environment principles are not really committed to those principles (i.e. that they are either liars or self-deceived), because they are actually committed to another set of contradictory principles. I don’t think that’s a persuasive way to argue, at least when it comes to understanding movements like transhumanism. I think it’s possible for ideologies to contain within them contradictory principles and for the advocates of an ideology to not be fully committed to either (or, to be committed to one set on one occasion and another set on another occasion). Consequently, I don’t think the implicit contradiction has any necessary implications for how transhumanists might act in the real world. Furthermore, I don’t see why we should deny the sincerity of those who do claim to be committed to the pro-environment principles.

The second problem with the argument is that it proceeds on a faulty assumption. Or so I believe. KK seem to presume that nature is intrinsically valuable and is something we should seek to preserve and protect. But I think that is just wrong. Many “natural” things are bad, and not just because they are bad for human beings. Predation is bad for the animals that get eaten; floods are bad for many forms of vegetation; and certain bacteria and viruses can be bad for pretty much everything (apart from the bacteria and viruses themselves). There are many good things about nature too of course, and what I say shouldn’t be taken to mean that plants and animals cannot be afforded some degree of moral status. It simply means that extreme conservationism is morally untenable. We should preserve and protect that which deserves to be preserved and protected; we should try to eliminate or modify that which does not. There’s nothing in the transhumanist view that is inconsistent with that approach to the natural world.

3. Transhumanism and Social Anarchism
So much for the compatibility of transhumanism and eco-anarchism. What about the compatibility of transhumanism with the more traditional forms of social anarchism, i.e. with those that focus on freeing humans from the dominating control of other humans (particularly the state)? Is that also incompatible with transhumanism? Again, KK argue that it is.

Their argument this time round is slightly more subtle than their eco-anarchist argument. I’ll do my best to elucidate its basic logical structure. In general terms, their concern is with the role of technology in the transhumanist project and with who owns and controls that technology. They worry that, far from being a liberatory force, technology can actually reinforce ideologies that restrict and limit human freedom. That gives them the following argument:

  • (4) Anarchists are committed to granting human beings freedom from dominating control.
  • (5) The transhumanist project is likely to reinforce, or create new, forms of dominating control.
  • (6) Therefore, anarchism is unlikely to be compatible with transhumanism.

KK adduce three main lines of support for premise (5). The first is the classic worry that the benefits of enhancing technologies will not be evenly distributed among the population. This may lead to a new transhumanist elite which exerts dominating control over the lower classes of human being. Of course, transhumanists have argued that this may not follow on the grounds that the transhumanist elite might be morally enlightened and less inclined to exert dominating control (just as contemporary human societies are, arguably, more enlightened in this respect than our ancient ancestors). This is speculative to be sure — who really knows what will happen? — but KK dismiss it on somewhat unconvincing grounds, stating that claims like this merely serve to highlight the value-laden nature of the technologies.

The second reason for believing in premise (5) has to do with the control over the innovation necessary for the transhumanist project to succeed. KK argue that this innovation will be controlled by scientific and technological elites (coupled to a technopolitical lobby). These groups will tend to reinforce the existing capitalistic status quo. Finally, the third reason, which is slightly weaker, stems from Bostrom’s concept of the “singleton”, which is a single, independent decision-making entity that he feels may be necessary if we are to guide human evolution in the desired direction. KK reply to this in a pithy fashion: “It sounds like the nightmare of every anarchist” (p. 325).

I have mixed feelings about this argument. I think its best if it is not interpreted as an attempted argument for the incompatibility of transhumanism and anarchism, but rather as a warning call. If we are to follow the transhumanist project, we certainly should be wary about the possibility of reinforcing or perpetuating forms of dominating control, and about the corporate interests and ideologies that might be served by that project.

Nevertheless, I would reject the idea — implicit in KK’s analysis — that enhancement technologies cannot be genuinely emancipatory. Last year, I wrote a paper about enhancement and hyperagency, suggesting that one of the goals of enhancement was to allow human beings to become hyperagents (i.e. agents with complete control of all aspects of their agency). Although there are some legitimate concerns about that possibility — several of which I address in that paper — I fail to see why it would not be genuinely emancipatory. Not unless the concepts of “freedom” and “emancipation” are being understood in some mystical sense that I don’t fully appreciate.

In summary then, although KK’s analysis of transhumanism and anarchism is certainly provocative, and occasionally insightful, I don’t think it is, in the final analysis, persuasive.


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What is Anarcho-Transhumanism?

By William Gillis
Anarcho-Transhumanism is the recognition that social liberty is inherently bound up with material liberty, and that freedom is ultimately a matter of expanding our capacity and opportunities to engage with the world around us…

It is the realization that our resistance against those social forces that would subjugate and limit us is but part of a spectrum of efforts to expand human agency—to facilitate our inquiry and creativity.

This means not just being free from the arbitrary limitations our bodies might impose, but free to shape the world around us and deepen the potential of our connections to one another through it.

It means the tools we use should be openly knowable and infinitely customizable; it means bodies that are not locked into processes in which we have no say. It knows that the hunger for choice behind birth control, regrown limbs and sexual reassignment is the same hunger that organizes workers and sets fire to prisons.

It is struggle to live free… and do so for one more year, one more decade, one more century. It means not just transcending the strictures of gender, but of genetics and all previous human experience. It means fighting to be allowed the fullest actualization of who and what we want to be, whenever we want to be it.

It means challenging and altering the conditions that might otherwise govern us. It means when the tools exist to better our lives they should be used; that no one should starve when such scarcity can be eliminated.

It means vigilantly engaging with nature rather than bullying or surrendering to it. It is the knowledge that victory for the working class will only truly arrive when every worker individually owns the means of production—capable of fabricating anything and everything for themselves. It is proactive engagement with the environmental conditions that force hierarchy and inescapable collectivism.

It means freeing our society from the hierarchies of two dimensional landscapes, to move our destructive infrastructures outside the biosphere and to eventually shake off sedentary civilization and take our place as hunter-gatherers between the stars.

It means cryptography—unbreakable channels of private communication added up into an unbreakable hive of ideas and knowledge. It also means the abolition of public privacy—the creation of a world where the actions we take with one another are sharable and verifiable in an instant.

And ultimately it will be the freedom to surpass the limited bandwidth of language and connect more and more directly to one another—to merge minds and transcend individual subjectivities as desired.

Anarcho-Transhumanism is all of these things and any one of them.

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