Re: SOC/CULTURE: Evolution or Revolution? (Was:"The meaning of philosophy and the lawn chair)

From: Mark Walker (
Date: Mon Jul 02 2001 - 19:43:36 MDT

Greg Burch wrote:

> From: "Damien Broderick" <>
> To: <>
> Sent: Monday, June 25, 2001 2:04 AM
> > Indeed. This is the main disagreement I had with Greg Burch's excellent
> > address at Extro5--it was far too structured by the rhetoric of conflict
> > and even battle. This *might* turn out eventually to be literally true,
> and
> > in some instances is already, but I find it a self-defeating choice of
> > analysis and semiotic tactics.
> In matters of culture, Damien, I value the opinion of few others as highly
> as yours. Thus your comments in this vein have continued to reverberate
> my mind since I first began discussing my Extro5 talk with you. On the
> hand, you seem to have a very strong point in criticizing adoption of the
> rhetoric of conflict, or even an analytical framework that could lead one
> perception of conflict in this arena. On the other, I cannot help but be
> guided by history in these matters -- as I sought to stress in my talk at
> Extro5.
> The conflict between these two points of view lies behind the three
> different strategies I described in that talk. The truth is that large
> portions of humanity probably aren't really polarized in their thinking
> about progress in general and the incremental augmentation of the human
> animal that marks the path to post-humanity. Thus, appeals to the "middle
> ground" is indeed the best strategy for the short term in seeking progress
> in the transhumanist agenda. And some periods of history evidence the
> success of cultural compromise, or at least the benign neglect of
> fundamental cultural contradictions. Look at the West in the 19th
> While the scientific world peacefully went about its business, the
> mainstream culture continued to be "religious", adopting the fruits of
> science and technology in a fairly peaceful, incremental fashion.
> But there are other times and places when the fundamental contradictions
> between basic ideas and values have come into open and sometimes bloody
> conflict. The social and political implications of the Enlightenment
> ultimately could not be glossed over and the convulsions of the American
> French revolutions and their nationalist sequelae in Germany and elsewhere
> were the result of the inescapable conflict between the liberal world-view
> and that of the ancien regime. Likewise, although the traditional centers
> of cultural power in the Chinese world struggled for 100 years to find a
> peaceful way to accommodate the ideas and values seeping and then rushing
> from the West, the Sinitic world was ultimately rocked by violent tectonic
> shifts in which hundreds of millions died during a revolutionary struggle
> that may well not have ended yet.
> The question is this: In which sort of period do we now find ourselves? I
> have no love of bloody revolutions -- far from it. I WANT the transition
> post-humanity to be a peaceful one in which not only physical violence is
> avoided, but even wherever possible the kinds of cultural cleavages that
> violence to cultural continuity with the best of the past. But I think we
> have to be clear-eyed about the real possibility that this may not happen.
I have to disagree with Damien's claim that the rhetoric of battle or
conflict is a "self-defeating [note the Broderickian irony in this choice of
word] choice of analysis and semiotic tactics." Greg does use a number of
military metaphors, but these are certainly not extreme. ( I have, for
example, seen much heavier-handed use in academically respectable journals).
This is not to say that it might not be a better semiotic tactic to tone
these metaphors down a bit. I am more puzzled by the claim that this is a
self-defeating choice of analysis. While I don't agree with all the
specifics of Greg's analysis, surely it is clear that it cannot be the case
that the future is both transhumanistic and not transhumanistic. Isn't this
the point of the conflict rhetoric? It would seem dishonest to suggest that
there might be some way to make consistent all the view points Greg
discusses. To avoid the military metaphors let us say that some view points
will have to be retrenched, down-sized, or laid-off. While there may be some
give and take around the edges, I really don't see the possibility of
reaching some real mid-ground here. In a sense, transhumanism already
contains a mid-ground in that most transhumanist allow that it is a matter
of choice whether one does or does not employ technology to remake
themselves as godlike as possible. Many of those that take the contrary seek
to prohibit this choice tout court. I don't see how we can avoid a clash of
ideas here. If Greg's analysis is not correct then what is the correct
analysis? (Perhaps transhumanist ideas can rule on even numbered days and
nontranshumanist ideas on odd numbered days ;)). Mark.

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