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Transhumanists: Not Dead Yet
Re: Brendan Bernhard’s cover story “The Transhumanists” [January 19–25]. My Extropian philosophy and Natasha Vita-More’s Extropic Art movement offer all kinds of targets for critical analysis. Mr. Bernhard missed all of those. Instead, he chose to take some cheap shots, primarily at Natasha. (Perhaps he spared me due to our common Brit backgrounds.) Clearly he was not sympathetic to our ideas, nor hostile, nor particularly interested in his story. So he took the easy way. Critical attention to our ideas would have informed your readers better than silly personal digs. With the onrush of powerful new technologies, from genetic engineering to human-computer interfaces, journalists would do better to critically assess our rapidly growing philosophy and art movement than to indulge in personal responses to personal style.
Mr. Bernhard writes, “Perhaps one day we’ll all be transhumans, or posthuman cyborgs, but since we’re not cyborgs now, it’s hard to get too worked up about it.” This is like saying that since we have plenty of oil right now, we shouldn’t be concerned about finding alternative low- or non-polluting fuels. Or that we shouldn’t worry about deforestation. “Well sure, some day we’ll run out of trees and that will be bad, but there are lots of them around now.” Perhaps Mr. Bernhard’s problem is he can’t believe such changes could occur in his lifetime. He has lots of company, though. Throughout history, humans have always had a problem envisioning the world changing drastically within their lifetimes. I’ve been in the computer and telecommunications industries for most of my adult life, but if someone had asked me 10 years ago if I thought that I’d be able to carry a phone around with me in 10 years that would let me receive and place calls anywhere in the United States with no long-distance charges, and that I could also send and receive text messages anywhere in the world with it — all for under $75 a month — I wouldn’t have believed it. And that’s just small change compared to what Extropians think will happen. Here, indeed, is something to get worked up about.
I was pleased to see transhumanism featured so prominently, even despite the author’s rather
disparaging tone. However, I would like to call attention to two factual errors in the article. First, FM-2030 is not dead in any meaningful sense; he is simply incapacitated while in cryonic suspension. One might say he is temporarily dead.
Secondly, transhumanism is not a religion. There are no deities or holy texts, and there is nothing that cannot be backed up by modern science, to say nothing of future science. It is simply a logical extension of the trends we see today — more technology, longer lifespans and the like.
Why am I not surprised to learn that a group of people with aspirations to live forever is centered in Southern California and, more specifically, in the western part of Los Angeles? Too bad there is not yet a cure for feeble-mindedness, shallowness and frivolity, to my view far more pressing issues than longevity or immortality. After all, who wants to be an immortal moron?
Hip-Hopping in Place
Ernest Hardy’s “Same Old, Same Old” [January 26–February 1] is right on target in its assessment of today’s black-white movie trend. Even though blacks star in and provide the soundtrack to today’s movies, they are nonetheless marginalized in the very films in which they headline with whites. Black portrayals are stuck in old-school formulas put to a hip-hop beat. As Hardy puts it, “In the end, it says that the comfort zones of white folk must be maintained at all costs.” We are still waiting for the universal, colorblind film. Thanks to Hardy for calling a spade a spade, and thanks to the L.A. Weekly for publishing his essay.
Ernest Hardy’s article “Same Old, Same Old” articulates so many of the frustrations I’ve felt with how many films of late have dealt (or rather, not dealt) with the issue of race. What is particularly disturbing about many of the films mentioned in Hardy’s article is that they are presented within a liberal political framework. The boldface, 72-point headline proclaims interracial unity, but the fine print points out that the cost of this .unity is a silent acceptance by black people of a white-hegemonic cultural standard.
The scariest part of all of this, to me anyway, is that it is very easy to believe that the artists who produce such works are well-intended. I would hate to think this is the best that we can expect from the film community by way of dealing with race.
Ernest Hardy is a fucking genius, and he is the only film or music critic I know of that has the fucking guts to tell the truth about race, sex and politics in America. His latest article, “Same Old, Same Old,” is amazing, truly amazing.
New York City
Send in the Koalas
I just read the piece in OffBeat about the L.A. Zoo cutting down eucalyptus trees and how a local resident was pissed off about it [“Ecocide,” January 26–February 1]. He should know that eucalyptus trees are non-native trees that totally destroy the chances for any native plant life to thrive. I completely support the zoo in trying to restore the natural habitat of Griffith Park.
Celeste Fremon’s whiny article about having to get the tires changed on her Ford Explorer [“The Big Blowup,” January 12–18] conveniently fails to consider the danger and inconvenience Fremon is causing everybody else’s children by driving an SUV in the first place. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics, in case of collision, the driver of an SUV is vastly more likely to kill another motorist than the driver of a more responsible vehicle is. It goes without saying that the Camry drivers about whom Fremon complains spend significantly more time dodging low-visibility traffic conditions, bypassing crowded-out parking spaces and having 3-foot-high dings removed from their car doors than SUV owners do getting their tires replaced. The SUV debacle will end when the families of the real victims (responsible drivers killed to satisfy other drivers’ moronic desperation to be trendy) start suing the real villains (cavalier idiots like Fremon).
Simply, if Not Succinctly, Put . . .
As Harold Meyerson tries to bring order to the confusing political morass that is the current election for mayor of Los Angeles, he trades succinctness for comprehension. He is not wrong to focus on labor’s role and importance, but he misses the point in what he perceives as the disjunction between the new progressive coalition that is forming and the disjointed reaction of labor to it.
What other reason — besides simply being captured by the weight of outmoded convention and a conservative outlook — could explain, for example, how the constellation of SEIU locals can face an obvious progressive option with different and seemingly contradictory endorsements? This fit of conservative myopia is what Meyerson says SEIU Local 347 is guilty of in having endorsed James Hahn, as opposed to Antonio Villaraigosa, for mayor. This is supposed to be a clear choice. If it’s not clear, then it can only be that we are victims of conservative malaise — or we have just been bypassed by the times.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Meyerson’s characterization of the process is incomplete and reductive, the description of Local 347 is inaccurate, and the choice for Angelenos is anything but this simplistic.
While it would be preferable to speak with one voice in the Joint Council of SEIU locals, the individual SEIU unions respond to different points of reference, and do so quite unequivocally, all of the time.
More important, they do so without any of
them sacrificing the hard-won mantle of progressive unionism. It is precisely because the largest progressive union bloc in
L.A. has such a varied outlook that Mr.
Meyerson’s observations seem relevant. This points only to the contradictory nature of the process. The County Fed — itself not exactly a bastion of conservative politics — may end up uncommitted in the race.
More to the point, there is a sea change
occurring just beneath the surface of L.A. politics that will produce cataclysmic change in the coming decades. Different sectors of Los Angeles’ working class are demanding that their voices be heard, and a new progressive force is assembling to reflect that change. This shift is at the core of Meyerson’s criticism and of his failure to understand the conditions.
Simply put: As the unions rooted in different and transmuting parts of the class formation move, with time, to a newer configuration, they will do so at different paces, reflecting different specific weights of the elements of that social shift. Second, the newly emerging progressive movement has not yet sent forth a leader from within its ranks to represent that shift — Gil Cedillo is a good example of such a natural leader — in this race for mayor. Cedillo’s campaign, as an example, for the state Senate seat of Richard Polanco should receive near-unanimous
support from all the players in this local scenario, Antonio Villaraigosa included.
Villaraigosa’s personal politics are not the issue. His commitments are real and admirable. Had he opted to run for the City Council rather than mayor, this conundrum would never have been aired. Our support would have been absolute, and we would have campaigned tirelessly to count votes for him to become the next council president.
He did not choose to do that. Moreover, we do not believe he can successfully win election as mayor this year.
How one feels about Villaraigosa’s ability to win does not define progressivism. Jim Hahn is no less “progressive” on the issues Local 347 will face in a new mayor’s administration than would be Antonio Villaraigosa. Villaraigosa’s tenure as speaker was marked by his adept transition to the center. In fact, this was his primary qualification and launching point for his mayoral bid, if one correctly gleans Villaraigosa’s own press during his time in Sacramento.
The change to come is real. And it plays out, before our eyes, in uneven and even combined ways. Casting SEIU Local 347 as a stodgy, passed-over, “old school” union may be simple and appear incisive, but it isn’t, and we expect a deeper and more nuanced examination than we got out of Meyerson on this issue. Attempting to paint a more thoughtful and, thus, truer picture is not easy. We know. We’re here, on the ground: a real, progressive union trying to navigate the new and difficult shoals, and our decision and endorsement reflect that.
General Manager, SEIU Local 347