Re: Hakim Bey

From: Brian D Williams (
Date: Tue Feb 26 2002 - 08:51:38 MST

From: Anders Sandberg <>

>> Obviously for the Extropians, mediation per se cannot be
>> defined as "impurity" or as the invariable source of separation,
>> alienation, and hierarchy. Nevertheless, it remains obvious that
>> such separation does in fact occur

>Translated, this would mean that extropians do not see
>technological mediation - our technological exoselves that
>interface us with the world and each other through
>telecommunications, cars, prepackaged food and
>glasses - as an inevitable source of separation from the real
>world and each other. This is contrary to what primitivists,
>romantics, luddites, marxists and many other critics of modernity

Yes, but it's just that, a "claim". This is different from fact.
Bey claims that such separation is a fact, it is not, but just his

Rather than a neutral position, this statement reeks of an anti-
technological bias...

>I think at the core this is due to a different sense of the
>meaning and importance of authenticity: to us authentic means
>something entirely different from the very much nature-linked
>sense the term is used by them. I think most of us would say that
>a life as a posthuman upload in a nanotech Dyson sphere is just as
>authentic as living as a hunter gatherer in the paleolithic; it is
>more about a subjective sense of identity than anything rooted in
>physical or metaphysical reality. To us, the mood change brought
>about by Prozac is just as authentic as the same change brought
>about by therapy (we can still recognize that a cognitive therapy
>making a person better able to cope and control his emotions will
>in the long run be preferrable to a "chemical fix", it is just
>that the mood itself has its own authenticity). In the end I think
>our position can be viewed as "authenticity is information", while
>many of our critics think that "authenticity is in the object".

I think it's even simpler, our critics consider their's the only
authentic position.

>However, authenticity is also - especially in marxist and
>existentialist discourse - closely linked to social aspects. This
>is what Bey continues with:

>> that it amounts to immiseration, that it is bound up in some way
>> with techn? and mediation, that not all technology is
>> "liberating" according to any anarchist definition of the term,
>> and that some of it is downright oppressive. The Extropian
>> therefore lacks and needs a critique of technology, and of the
>> incredibly complex relation between the social and the
>> technical. No one with any intelligence can any longer accept
>> the notion of technology as "morally neutral," with control of
>> the means of production the only criteria for valuation. The
>> social and the technological are somehow bound in a complex
>> relation of co-creation (or "co-evolution"), such that techn?
>> shapes cognition even as cognition shapes techn?.

>Bey means roughly that technology (and he means it in its widest
>sense, not just special devices but also "technologies" such as
>economics and psychology) is not value-neutral, but that some
>technology has inherent consequences that are ethically relevant.
>In his analysis this is not due to anything directly inherent in
>the technology itself, but rather in the fact that it is
>impossible to separate technology from the social environment -
>economy, culture, politics and all that. Technology is developed
>because of what humans think and want, and these things are bound
>up to our society; the new technology changes society, and we get
>a complex tangle of feedback where everything does have ethical

I wasn't aware that anyone here thought that technology is value
neutral. I most certainly don't. I don't see anything in the
Extropian principals that says technology is value neutral.

Under Intelligent Technology:

"Seeing technology not as an end in itself but as an effective
means towards the improvement of life"

We understand the risks involved, we accept them.

>I agree with him about this. Seeing technology as something
>cleanly separated from society, something that develops on its own
>according to its own rules, does not work - the history of
>technology shows that it is always deeply involved in the messy
>process of cultural change. This is not anything deterministic,
>and individual humans can and do affect it a lot, which means it
>has ethical implications.

I agree also, but I don't see where he gets the idea that
Extropians think technology is value neutral. We understand culture
and society. We also understand they are flawed, and a rational
approach to improving them is the best solution.

Nor do we intend to be limited by them.

>Unfortunately quite a few transhumanists do tend towards fairly
>simplistic technological determinism or separate technology from
>its cultural side, and this produces an inability to do a good
>critique of technology. If technology is just something bringing
>us towards a future utopia on its own, then technology is simply
>good and there is no point in further debate about whether
>Microsoft's software is a good thing. If the value of technology
>is determined solely by the values of those bringing it into
>existence and the applications it is put to, then it is impossible
>to criticise secondary effects (is it a good thing that we can be
>constantly reached using cellphones, and a culture assuming this
>seems to be emerging?).

Again I agree, but this is supposed to be about Extropians, not
merely transhumanists, and I still don't see us as being value
neutral toward technology.

>> If the extropian vision of the future is
>> viable it cannot depend on "machine evolution" alone to achieve
>> realization. But unless anarcho-futurism can develop a critique
>> of technology, it is relegated precisely to this passive role.

>Which I also agree with. We will not get to transhumanity just by
>inventing the right tools, we have to change ourselves and our
>culture too.

I agree with this also, but I also think he is wrong about us on
this point, the Extropian principals clearly state that more than
tech is involved. How about the open society principal?

> On the other hand, I prefer the burden of inconsistency (even
>"foolish" inconsistency) to the burden of the Absolute. Only an
>impure theory can do justice to the impurity of the present
>-which, as everyone knows, is only a psychological impossibility
>caught between a lost past and a nonexistent future.

>I.e., beware of oversimplified utopias where everything is black
>and white. Such thinking requires you to do away with all of the
>present world and to remake it into something completely
>different. It has a hard time being tolerant and pluralistic, and
>can very easily turn into something totalitarian.

We are not Utopianists...

>>Suppose we were to ask -as anarchists- what should be done about
>>the problem of technology "after the revolution." This exercise
>>in utopian poetics may help us to clarify the question of desire,
>>and of praxis in the "present." The primitivist might argue that
>>there can be no revolution without the abolition of symbolic
>>mediation, or at least of the technological imperative;
>>extropians might say that no revolution can occur without
>>technological transcendence. But both parties must perforce admit
>>a transitional stage, when de facto power has been seized by the
>>"Revolution," but the full unfolding of revolutionary society has
>>yet to occur. Let's imagine that the one rough principle agreed
>>upon by "everyone" is the freedom of the individual from coercion
>>by the group, and the freedom of the (self-organized) group from
>>coercion by all other groups. The only "price" of this freedom is
>>that it damage no other free and autonomous interests.
>> I suspect that this "utopia" would prove disappointing to both
>>the primitives and the extropians. I suspect that a workable
>>utopia would adhere more closely to the "messy" model than to
>>either of the "pure" models of the pro-tech/anti-tech theorists.
>>Like bolo'bolo, I imagine a complex multiplicity of social models
>>co-existing under the voluntary aegis of the social "price" of
>>mutual non-coercion. In effect the primitivists will get less
>>wilderness than they demand, and the extropians will get less

>This is a very good thought experiment (and as such, a crutch for
>thinking rather than a recipe of How To Do It). His point is that
>if we somehow manage to overturn the current situation and create
>essentially an anarchist world (his description seems a bit like
>my ideas about metafederations and Nozick's utopia, a world
>composed of communities with their own internal rules and much
>freedom to move between them) the world will not become a
>primitive utopia or a posthuman utopia. It would likely be a messy
>mixture of both - there would be extropians pursuing supertech,
>and right next to them the local luddites trying to live a
>neomedieval life. But neither would get the pure world: the
>luddites would find themselves using some neat tech or having to
>accept the existence of GM plants, the extropians would have to
>accept both a large number of people not interested in their
>visions and a slower rate of progress than would have been if
>everybody had been trying to storm the cosmos.

We are not utopianists. We don't care how others choose to live
their lives, we just want to pursue the improvement of ours. This
is the difference between us and the luddites, we are willing to
leave them alone, but they are unwilling to leave us alone.

>Bey seem to be optimistic about that this is feasible, and this
>may be is own utopian flight of fancy. After all, getting from
>here to there will not be a clean break if it happens, but in
>itself a messy imperfect process. It could very well be that we
>still will have some of our old insitutions even after the
>Revolution - there might be a Microsoft even then - and it will
>likely not be as perfectly anarchist or nice as we would like.
>Which is acceptable, because the alternative is to seek a perfect
>revolution which is impossible to realize in the real world.

I think this whole essay is colored by Bey's misinterpretation of
Extropianism. He attempts to lump us in with transhumanists and
other assorted futurists. It's almost impossible to believe he has
actually read the Extropian principals. He also appears to be anti-

Still it was interesting.


Extropy Institute,
National Rifle Association,, 1.800.672.3888
SBC/Ameritech Data Center Chicago, IL, Local 134 I.B.E.W

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