Thursday, 29 May 2008

Aliens: Colonial Marines

I couldn't resist as it relates to the iconography of this blog, it's mission statements concerning the ultimate dystopia merging a commodified bioculture and the military/industrial [entertainment] complex. It has to be said that it looks quite impressive (even though I admit I'm at least 3 months late with this), and this time, some serious development is under way. To get the full effect I recommend clicking on the images to enlarge them....

Saturday, 24 May 2008

"Telepresence": Robert Ballard's exploration & exploitation of new frontiers

More on the theme of underwater dystopia, the regeneration of the frontier mythos, and the articulation with the spirit of entrepreneurship, putting a mind into "reset mode" as explorer Robert Ballard enthusiastically puts it in this eloquent piece of self promotion:
By perfecting "telepresence"- the ability to see beyond the confines of the body, as in exploration of the Titanic, Ballard hoped to offer greater therapeutic benefits than movies or tv...This was the logic of Reagan era political economy: that everybody benefitted from the energies of the liberated entrepreneur; that what mattered most of all, as Ballard said of telepresence and the discovery of Titanic, was "to make people feel good"; that images were reality.
Down with the Old Canoe: a Cultural History of the Titanic Disaster by Steven Biel (page 216)

A sociological riposte to the libertarian utopia of individual free choice

Friday, 23 May 2008

Ocean colony mirrors Bioshock dystopia

I am still laughing at this, as it not only proves the point about the commodification/recuperation of critical impulses, in my previous "Running Man" post, but does so, again with no irony, by striving to realise the world of "Bioshock", previously posted here.

Given that "Bioshock" was an Ayn Rand inspired dystopia, it is only fitting that a relative of Milton Friedman has his bloody fingerprints all over this. The last time I remember reading about this latest link in the Chicago School dynasty, he was extolling the virtues of a "back to the future philosophy", to rationalise his involvement in assorted medieval recreation societies (high tech feudalism, how appropriate). How fatuous do you have to be to criticise democracy because it is not always "innovating", especially when it is obvious that the end results of your own preferences are actually regressive?:

True to his libertarian leanings, Friedman looks at the situation in market terms: the institute's modular spar platforms, he argues, would allow for the creation of far cheaper new countries out on the high-seas, driving innovation.

"Government is an industry with a really high barrier to entry," he said. "You basically need to win an election or a revolution to try a new one. That's a ridiculous barrier to entry. And it's got enormous customer lock-in. People complain about their cellphone plans that are like two years, but think of the effort that it takes to change your citizenship."

Friedman estimates that it would cost a few hundred million dollars to build a seastead for a few thousand people. With costs that low, Friedman can see constellations of cities springing up, giving people a variety of governmental choices. If misguided policies arose, citizens could simply motor to a new nation.

What is also scary is involvement of a Google developer, and the founder of PayPal. This suggests the Californian cult of the self is getting too carried away again by generalising the application of ICT metaphors taken from neoliberal economics.

I have no problem with possibly developing other angles on this story, in keeping with its earlier feature on "micronations". I would agree it is easy to imagine such rarefied environments becoming "zones of exception", as in "Super Cannes", where the bored, spoilt inhabitants end up killing each other for sport. But I haven't been diligent enough lately to check if this discussion is already taking place, either there, on in other forums such as in the journal "Island Studies".

For a less commodified vision of the "temporary autonomous zone", albeit saddled with its own dubious ethical associations rooted in common libertarian soil (such as pederasty), one could take a (bewildered) look at the prospective ideal of "pirate utopias":

Finally, here is the link to the piece in Wired on the Seasteading Institute:

MangoBot: a biweekly column about Asian futurism

If you've noticed an unusually large number of utilitarian humanoids hailing from Japan in the last few years, then you probably won't be surprised to hear about the country's official robot initiative. Right now, Japan is in the midst of executing a grand plan to make robots an integrated part of everyday life. To compensate for the shortage of young workers willing to do menial tasks, the Japan Robot Association, the government, and several technology institutions drafted a formal plan to create a society in which robots live side by side with humans by the year 2010.
Please notice though that the following article fails to contextualise the idea of the "robot workforce" in relation to restructuring of the Japanese economy (i.e. recommodification of industry following a long recession), letalone the stringent Immigration Laws (i.e. it might be argued in some quarters that the posthuman turn is occasionally, at least partly, rooted in the kind of xenophobia where, for example, an elderly citizen would prefer to be nursed by a robot than, say, a Filipino guest worker- this hypothesis would need to be rigorously investigated and qualified though). There are additional cultural factors that may play a constitutive role in this trend, some of which are addressed in the other 2 articles I've included here.

'Rinri': An Incitement towards the Existence of Robots in Japanese Society
by Naho Kitano
Language: English
abstract: Known as the "Robot Kingdom", Japan has launched, with granting outstanding governmental budgets, a new strategic plan in order to create new markets for the RT (Robot-Technology) Industry. Now that the social structure is greatly modernized and a high social functionality has been achieved, robots in the society are taking a popular role for Japanese people. The motivation for such great high-tech developments has to be researched in how human relations work, as well as in the customs and psychology of the Japanese. With examining the background of the Japanese affirmativeness toward Robots, this paper reveals the Animism and the Japanese ethics, "Rinri", that benefit the Japanese Robotics. First the introduction describes the Japanese social context which serves in order to illustrate the term "Rinri". The meaning of Japanese Animism is explained in order to understand why Rinri is to be considered as an incitement for Japanese social robotics.
pdf-fulltext (83 KB)

On the Anticipation of Ethical Conflicts between Humans and Robots in Japanese Mangas
by Stefan Krebs
Language: English
abstract: The following contribution examines the influence of mangas and animes on the social perception and cultural understanding of robots in Japan. Part of it is the narrow interaction between pop culture and Japanese robotics: Some examples shall serve to illustrate spill-over effects between popular robot stories and the recent development of robot technologies in Japan. The example of the famous Astro boy comics will be used to help investigate the ethical conflicts between humans and robots thematised in Japanese mangas. With a view to ethical problems the stories shall be subsumed under different categorical aspects.
pdf-fulltext (74 KB)

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

How To think About Science

Historians, sociologists, philosophers and sometimes scientists themselves have begun to ask how the institution of science is structured and how it knows what it knows. David Cayley explores this new field of study in a special series for CBC Radio's Ideas.

Luminaries include Simon Schaffer (Leviathan and the Air Pump: Hobbes, Boyle and the Experimental Life); Lorraine Daston (Objectivity), director of the Max Planck Institute for the history of Science; Margaret Lock (Twice Dead: Organ Transplants and the Reinvention of Death); Ian Hacking (The Social Construction of What? ); Michael Gibbons and Peter Scott (Rethinking Science); Ruth Hubbard (Exploding the Gene Myth); Richard Lewontin (Biology as Ideology: The Doctrine of DNA); Peter Galison (Einstein's Clocks, Poincare's Maps: Empires of Time); Steven Shapin (Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life); Barbara Duden (Disembodying Women: Perspectives on Pregnancy and the Unborn) and Silya Samerski; Evelyn Fox Keller (Reflections on Gender and Science); James Lovelock (The Revenge of Gaia); Ulrich Beck (Risk Society); and Bruno Latour (We Have Never Been Modern).

CBC Radio Podcasts ~ Ideas: How to Think About Science

‘There is no scientific basis to the concept of humanity’

Now available for downloading is the first report of the European Union Sixth Framework Project on the Knowledge Politics of Nano-, Bio-, Info- and Cogno- Sciences and Technologies.

The report is entitled ‘Research trajectories and institutional settings of new converging technologies’. It is written by Steve Fuller and includes annexes from the European partners on the project who describe the state of play in their respective countries.

You may access the report here:
The debate next week at Warwick ‘There is no scientific basis to the concept of humanity’, will be videoed and there will be an accompanying podcast. Both will be available online a few days after the event.

More information about the debate is here:

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Dystopia: The Culture Industry's Neutralization of Stephen King's the Running Man

"...almost two decades before programs such as "America's Most Wanted" and "COPS" appeared, King offered a predictive and trenchant critique of reality police television shows. Second, influenced by Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, King both employed and modified the dystopian convention of using a dialogue between the protagonist and a member of the ruling elite to demystify and interrogate structures of power. Third, The Running Man ends with an incredibly ghastly scene: an eviscerated protagonist flying an airliner into a high-rise office complex. In rendering this scene, King did not merely make his audience queasy and eerily foreshadow the events of September 11, 2001. He also rewrote one of the seminal episodes of American literature: the evisceration of the waist gunner Snowden in Joseph Heller's Catch-22.

In Part II, I examine the ways in which various iterations of The Running Man have thematically moved away from King's novel. First, King's celebrity prevented the work (originally published under a pseudonym) from being viewed fully as a dystopia. His status fixed The Running Man in a constellation of horror novels and movies. Second, the 1987 movie adaptation of The Running Man transformed a Vietnam-era protest novel into a Reagan-era star vehicle for Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura. Finally, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon attempted, in 2001, to turn the material of The Running Man into the very thing that it predicted: a reality television show called "The Runner," which featured a nationwide manhunt and huge cash prizes. Thus, within thirty years of its writing and less than twenty from the date of its publication, The Running Man became--in the words of Syme--not only different from what it once was but actually contradictory".
"A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Dystopia": The Culture Industry's Neutralization of Stephen King's the Running Man. Contributors: Douglas W. Texter - author. Journal Title: Utopian Studies. Volume: 18. Issue: 1. Publication Year: 2007. Page Number: 43+.

Speculating a Sustainable Future: Science Fiction & the Pedagogy of Ecological Literacy

This thesis by Eric Otto appears simpatico with Acheron's mission statement. It takes a balanced look at the treatment of ecological themes spanning from Deep Ecology to Kim Stanley Robinson's imagining that Red and Green may eventually lay down together in the fields of the Lord.

I'm archiving it here as it merits further attention once I'm finally freed from the other commitments currently bearing down on me.