Sunday, April 28, 2013

Beware the Cyborgs? On Augmented Reality Glasses and related matters.

By now you have all heard about Google Glass, probably more than you wish. For those of you who don't know what I mean, here is a decent overview. And of course, there are plenty of developers for augmented reality goggles, not just Google Glass. Anyway, there is already a movement to try to ban goggle glasses in certain public spaces, (and despite what Eric Schmidt says, these concerns are clearly not just from people "afraid of the future"). I really suggest reading and following the blog, Stop the Cybrogs. As you can see, the blog is about more than just wearable computing and augmented reality glasses, but more broadly, about the way that certain Big Data and computerizations are producing certain realities. This Ars Technica article/interview is really useful for an overview.

What is at stake here isn't any sort of traditional romanticization of privacy, but rather, a very different question is at stake. As Adam from StC has put it, google glasses has the potential to "destroys having multiple identities" and that "You're never going to see a stranger as a stranger again." Remember the time when we all thought the internet was going to make it so we got to be all genderqueer deconstructionist deleuzian radicals? Good times. But rather than the internet making it so that we have so many identities, we are all beginning to confront the reality that instead the internet is also good for fixing Macro and Molar identities. Or, as the StC puts it:

In the past interacting in the physical world was “private by default” and “public through effort” whereas, on the Internet, the reverse is true: What we do is “public by default” and “private through effort.”
Our point is that with wearable’s and the internet of things the physical world also becomes “public by default” and “private through effort.” unless we actively work to replace friction by law and by norms.

Clearly, this isn't some sort of wide-reaching critique of the internet, or a claim that there are not radical possibilities and realities of the internet, or anything of the sort. And, I know for most of us, this is all old, old hat. But yet, I think it is important to remember that Donna Haraway might have gotten this one really, really wrong. Rather than cyborgs being fundamentally hybrid beings, they are vectors of the the digitalization of everyday life. There is something about the singular identity and the removal of the stranger that is philosophically dense here.

Also, I dunno, it is part of my protracted silence for a while on this blog. I went on the job market, and I was encouraged by many to minimize my digital footprint (I did some stuff for things I said as an undergrad and early grad student, but couldn't bring myself to delete and remove most of my extensive online self). Who knows if that was or was not a good idea. But somehow even in the supposed pro-free speech and free thinking world of academia, I thought it was a good idea to curate my digital existence and enter a period of digital silence.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Philosophy of Race and Critical Animal Theory

Tom has an interesting post, that I started writing a comment to, and it became really long, so I decided to turn it into a blog post. You should go read it, it concerns tensions between animal ethics, philosophy of race, and the role of intuition in philosophy. Short, but smart. Go read, I'll wait. 

(Also, I am excited for his two new books coming out. His short monograph Levinas Unhinged, and his edited collection on Habit.) 

The point made my the philosopher of race (I wonder who it was?) is pretty common (though from from universal) in many philosophy of race, decolonial and postcolonial philosophy theories. And as someone who takes decolonial and postcolonial philosophy, nonwestern philosophy, and philosophy of race very seriously (and incorporates it in my scholarship and teaching) this is a real issue for me. I've written about these issues a lot on this blog, so I embed some links to past posts to do some of the work for me. Even though I do not fully agree with all of these posts. 

On the one hand, decolonial thinkers advance some of the best critiques of humanism, on the other they usually do it in order to talk about the need for a stronger humanism . And I do think that fights against anthropocentrism are useful for fights against racism (though they are not sufficient!). However, there is more than just the fact that people of color have been compared to animals and dehumanized, but the history co-mingling animal welfare and rights groups with obviously problematic, racist, and colonialist projects. Peta still engages in campaigns that are not only sexist, but frequently racist (often both ). And not just PETA, but if you look at the original animal welfare groups in Britain, you see some complex and interesting things. On the one hand, you have the The Vegetarian Society, which was viewed with disgrace, attracted a bunch of different radicals, and Gandhi credits with his radicalizing on the issues of colonialism. On the other hand, the RSPCA and the first animal welfare laws were all centered around class concerns, race concerns, and connected to explicit colonialists

I think there is a lot that needs to be done by critical animal theorists in order to help this. (1) Avoid the seduction of tokenism, of being able to point out a few diverse people in order to shrug of systemic claims of what is going on at conferences, edited volumes, etc. (2) Maybe we need to read less continental thinkers, and start reading more explicitly radical women and queers of color, decolonialist and postcolonialists, philosophers of race, and generally nonwestern philosophy. If I want an anthropocentric thinker who is critical of humanism, I don't always need to go after Agamben when I can read and cite Sylvia Wynter. (3) This will mean, also, to practice the sort of humility in engagement that can be really hard. To expect to be surprised, to be open to being wrong, and generally to not engage in that sort of way when one goes around and explains that the other side just needs to get how right you have been this whole time ("But don't you understand that anthropocentrism is behind racism? So thank you very much for no longer insisting upon your humanity..." etc.). 

None of this entails necessarily giving up our core ethics, or even being critical of other philosophers of race on occasion. For example, arguments about the cultural imperialism of vegetarianism and veganism that continue  simply ignore that other animals have culture is not very convincing or useful. 

In general, critical animal theorists need to admit that we do indeed, as a field, often have a problem with eurocentrism. No, this isn't unique to our field, and no, we are not all guilty of it. But none of that changes the fact we need to change our field.