Category Archives: science fiction

Beautiful Ideas Which Kill: Accelerationism, Futurism and Bewilderment

futurist soccer player

Umberto Boccioni’s Dynamism of a Soccer Player, 1913 (MOMA). Saw this on my visit in December 2017, it’s a provocative piece.

In trying to construct a progressive, positive view of the future, and design political structures that facilitate such outcomes, there are many ideas. These are the ideas of political philosophy, but they are also the ideas of sociology, economics, psychology, art and literature. When we think of writers like Karl Marx, Ayn Rand, Sigmund Freud, James Joyce – all of them could in some sense be considered to have made significant contributions in several of those fields. My own attempts to understand State Legitimacy, how the state’s claim to legitimacy can be established and maintained, is in truth a combination of those things as well. Ultimately, all of these pursuits fall back on critical theory: that field of study that attempts to understand who we are as peoples, as cultures. The Italian Futurists, from the first half of the twentieth century, and the (new) accelerationists, from the first fifteen or so years of the twenty-first century, each had a vision. And each was in some ways nasty. Continue reading

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Algorithmic Governance and its Discontents

AG Workshop

Dr Rónán Kennedy Chairs a session at the Algorithmic Governance workshop at NUI Galway

I had the privilege to participate in a workshop on algorithmic governance this past Friday at my alma mater, the National University of Ireland, Galway, under the supervision of Dr Rónán Kennedy and Dr John Danaher of the Law Faculty. and co-funded by the Colleges of Business and Public Policy. It’s part of a wider program of research grandly titled ‘Algocracy and the Transhumanist Project‘, which promises to tread some fascinating pathways. Comprehensive synopses of the event have already been published by Dr Danaher and one of the speakers Dr Muki Haklay, so I won’t re-do their work, but instead refer to one of the particularly interesting themes that emerged from the work.

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The General Will And Predictive Analytics

We_first_ed_dust_jacket

Zamyatin’s hero D-503 seemed quite pleased with his personal dystopia.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s 1762 work The Social Contract is in many respects an answer to his earlier work on inequality from 1754. In his discourse on inequality, he elaborated on the concept of amour propre, from which all inequality derived.  This amounted to a kind of egotism, or self-love of a particular kind, not what he calls amour de soi-meme, or love of oneself, which is a more visceral, base, defensiveness or protectiveness. The amour de soi-meme is a natural basis for self-preservation, much one could say as the spikes on a porcupine represent that animal’s amour de soi-meme.  The amour propre is the basis, he says, for honour, deriving as it does from a sense of esteem, something that is relative (to other people) and created by society.  Hobbesian vainglory, Platonic thumos, Freudian egoism, even Nietzschian supremacism – there are other incarnations of this concept, and in responding as he did in the Social Contract to this particularly human (and male) characteristic in The Social Contract, Rousseau extended the concept in The General Will. Continue reading

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Principles of Government and Science Fiction

Political DecayTowards the end of Fancis Fukyama’s recent tome, Political Order and Political Decay, Fukuyama makes reference to Frederick Winslow Taylor, a business guru from the turn of the century. Modern Science was being applied to state bureaucracy, and Taylor was at the forefront of what might be termed today as business optimization. ‘[A]dministration,’ Fukuyama explained, ‘was a realm of implementation that could be studied empirically and subjected to scientific analysis….public administration could be turned into a science and protected from the irrationalities of politics.’ (Chapter 41, Political Decay) Reading that piece, I remembered something.

Yevgeny Zamyatin was a writer who George Orwell described as having an ‘intuitive grasp of the zamyatin weirrational side of totalitarianism.’ His best remembered work “We” is a dark satire on a future state that is authoritatian, vicious, mathematical, and strangely devoid of character and soul.  On numerous occasions his narrator refers to Taylor (who died only six years prior to the publication of the book), referring to him as ‘the greatest of the ancients’, an asignation dripping with satire.  His methods appear in Zamtayin’s dystopia as cherished principles of the One State regime, moving towards mathematical perfection in the administration of society.  Clearly, Zamyatin saw what Fukuyama saw, and while Fukuyama acts as a historian and reports the trend dispassionately, Zamyatin as a contemporary of Taylor clearly saw ‘Scientific Management’ as a dangerous thing.

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