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Odin2005 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Apr-15-07 04:36 PM
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3. Another nice article I ran into:
Edited on Sun Apr-15-07 04:45 PM by Odin2005

Technoutopianism and the Left

The other strain of the Enlightenment, the belief in science, reason and human progress, has been a natural complement at the philosophical level to the democratic tradition. Science and democracy are the right and left hands of what Marx called the move from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom. The advances in science helped delegitimate the rule of kings and the power of the church.

Nineteenth century socialists, feminists and democrats were therefore also generally champions of reason and science. Technoutopianism, atheism, and scientific rationalism have been associated with the democratic, revolutionary and utopian left for most of the last two hundred years. Radicals like Joseph Priestley pursued scientific investigation while championing democracy and freedom from religious tyranny. Robert Owens, Fourier and Saint-Simon in the early nineteenth century inspired communalists with their visions of a future scientific and technological evolution of humanity using reason as its religion. The Oneida community, Americas longest-lived nineteenth century communist group, practiced extensive eugenic engineering through arranged breeding. Radicals seized on Darwinian evolution to validate the idea of social progress. Bellamys socialist utopia in Looking Backward, which inspired hundreds of socialist clubs in the late nineteenth century U.S. and a national political party, was as highly technological as Bellamys imagination. For Bellamy and the Fabian Socialists, socialism was to be brought about as a painless corollary of industrial development.

Marx and Engels saw more pain and conflict involved, but agreed about the inevitable end. Marxists argued that the advance of technology laid the groundwork not only for the creation of a new society, with different property relations, but also for the emergence of new human beings reconnected to nature and themselves. At the top of the agenda for empowered proletarians was to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible. The nineteenth and twentieth century Left, from social democrats to Communists, were focused on industrialization, economic development and the promotion of science, reason and the idea of progress.

The Estrangement of Technology and the Left

So why did these two strains of thought become estranged in the late 20th century? Why are so many contemporary social democrats, feminists, and Greens suspicious and hostile to biotechnologies, computers and science in general? The answer probably starts with the left-romantic traditions that grew up in reaction to modern technology. William Morris pastoralist visions of a deindustrialized socialism, Luddite machine-wrecking by the proto-workers movement, and absorption into pseudo-science, spiritualism and back-to-land communalism by bohemian radicals were all reactions to capitalism. The romantics and Luddites associated technology with capitalism, and thought that they could create a healthier, more egalitarian society only by fighting the new technologies. In fact, in the Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels specifically warns against clerical, aristocratic and petit-bourgeois socialists who advance pastoralism and pre-industrial production as the cure to social ills.

But it wasnt until World War Two that the generally tight association of the Left with science, technology and reason began to be superceded by the romantic tradition. Left interest in re-engineering the nature of Man was silenced by Nazi eugenics. The gas chambers revealed that modern technology could be used by a modern state for horrific uses, and the atomic bomb posed a permanent technological threat to humanitys existence. The ecological movement suggested that industrial activity was threatening all life on the planet, while the anti-nuclear power movement inspired calls for renunciation of specific types of technology altogether. The counter-culture attacked positivism, and lauded pre-industrial ways of life. While the progressives and New Dealers had built the welfare state to be a tool of reason and social justice, the New Left joined cultural conservatives and free-market libertarians in attacking it as a stultifying tool of oppression, contributing to the general decline in faith in democratic governments.

Intellectual trends such as deconstruction began to cast doubt on the master narratives of political and scientific progress, while cultural relativism eroded progressives faith that industrialized secular liberal democracies were in fact superior to pre-industrial and Third World societies. As the Left gave up on the idea of a sexy, high-tech vision of a radically democratic future, libertarians became associated with technological progress. Techno-enthusiasm on the Left was supplanted by pervasive Luddite suspicion about the products of the corporate consumerist machine. Celebrating technology was something GE and IBM did in TV ads to cover up their complicity in napalming babies. Activists fight the machine.

Bioethics, Technology and Democratic Values

During this period, philosophers and theologians began to address themselves to emerging ethical issues in medicine and biological research, giving birth to the field of bioethics. Although many of the early participants in the field were motivated by theology, the field quickly adopted a set of secular, liberal democratic values and principles as their basic consensual starting place. Most notably, Beauchamp and Childress have argued for the now broadly popular core bioethical principles of autonomy, justice and beneficence, which are direct corollaries of liberty, equality and solidarity.

In the seventies, countering the pervasive hysteria about in vitro fertilization and genetic engineering, and the theological warnings about playing God, there were occasional secular humanist voices such as John Fletcher who argued that humans have a right to control their own genetics. But the focus of most bioethicists attention was on protecting patients from unethical scientific research and overly aggressive applications of end-of-life care, protecting the public from science and technology rather than securing their rights to it. As bioethics matured it became clear that professional bioethicists gained far more traction by exacerbating the publics Luddite anxieties than by assuaging them. If cloning is really just the creation of delayed twins, and not a profound threat to everything we hold dear, who is going to fund bioethics conferences to address it, and empower bioethicists to forbid scientific research into cloning?

Today most bioethicists, informed by and contributing to the growing Luddite orientation in left-leaning arts and humanities faculties, start from the assumption that new biotechnologies are being developed in unethical ways by a rapacious medical-industrial complex, and will have myriad unpleasant consequences for society, especially for women and the powerless. Rather than emphasizing the liberty and autonomy of individuals who may want to adopt new technologies, or arguing for increased equitable access to new biotechnologies, balancing attention to the right from technology with attention to the right to technology, most bioethicists see it as their responsibility to slow the adoption of biotechnology altogether.

Bioethics is proto-biopolitics. As public debate and biopolitical ideologies crystallize and polarize, bioethicists will increasingly be revealed as partisan activists rather than experts applying universally accepted ethical principles. In fact, the mask has already seriously slipped. While President Clintons Presidential Bioethics Commissison was broadly representative of academic bioethics, the political design of President Bushs Bioethics Commission is quite naked. Bush chose Leon Kass as Grand Vizier of his committee, a man who is opposed to every intervention into human reproduction from in vitro fertilization to reproductive cloning, capping the ascendance of Luddism in bioethics. Kass in turn stacked the committee with both conservative bioethicists, such as Mary Ann Glendon and Gilbert Meilander, and conservatives with little or no connection to academic bioethics, such as Francis Fukuyama and Charles Krauthammer. The current campaign of the Bush administration and Kass committee is to criminalize the use of embryos and embryo cloning in research.

Although the backbone of opposition to stem cell research using embryos research comes from the right-to-life movement, the Christian Right has been joined by the Left bio-Luddites. Jeremy Rifkin, long a gadfly organizing left-right coalitions to oppose gene patenting, cloning and surrogate motherhood, distributed a petition in March which was signed by more than a hundred prominent bioethicists and progressive activists implicitly endorsing the Republican-backed Brownback legislation in Congress to criminalize medical research using embryos. Fortunately, the coalition in support of embryo cloning research quickly contacted many of the signers and discovered they had no idea that they had endorsed the criminalization of medical research. Now pro- and anti-embryo cloning petitions for progressives and conservatives have proliferated, making clear both that biopolitics is orthogonal to the pre-existing political landscape, and that bioethics is increasingly a political, not merely academic, exercise.

Why Democrats Should Embrace Transhumanism

Luddism is a political dead-end for progressive politics. Progressives must revive the techno-optimist tradition if they want to achieve the goals of furthering liberty, equality and solidarity.

First, left Luddism inappropriately equates technologies with the power relations around those technologies. Technologies do not determine power relations, they merely create new terrains for organizing and struggle. Most new technologies open up new possibilities for both expanded liberty and equality, just as they open new opportunities for oppression and exploitation. Since the technologies will most likely not be stopped, democrats need to engage with them, articulate policies that maximize social benefits from the technologies, and find liberatory uses for the technologies. If biotechnology is to be rejected simply because it is a product of capitalism, adopted in class society, then every technology must be rejected. The mission of the Left is to assert democratic control and priorities over the development and implementation of technology. But establishing democratic control over technological innovation is not the same as Luddism. In fact, to the extent that advocates for the democratic control of technology do not guarantee benefits from technology, and attempt to suppress technology altogether, they will lose public support.

Second, technology can help us transcend some of the fundamental causes of inequalities of power. Although we will never eliminate inequalities of intelligence and knowledge, the day is not far off when all humans can be guaranteed sufficient intelligence to function as active citizens. One of the most important progressive demands will be to ensure universal access to genetic choice technologies which permit parents to guarantee their children biological capacities equal to those of other children. Technologically assisted birth, eventually involving artificial wombs, will free women from being necessary, vulnerable vessels for the next generation. Morphological freedom, the ability to change ones body, including ones abilities, weight, gender and racial characteristics, will reduce body-based oppressions (disability, fat, gender and race) to aesthetic prejudices.

Third, Left Luddism is boring and depressing; it has no energy to inspire movements to create a new and better society. The Left was built by people inspired by millenial visions, not by people who saw a hopeless future of futile existential protest. Most people do not want to live in a future without telecommunications, labor-saving devices, air travel and medicine. The Next Left needs to rediscover its utopian imagination if it is to renew itself, reconnect with the popular imagination, and remain relevant. The Next Left needs visionary projects worthy of a united transhuman world, such as guaranteeing health and longevity for all, eliminating work, and colonizing the Solar System.
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