Book Talk – Chapter 4
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The Folly of Technological Solutionism
by Evgeny Morozov
“How to Break Politics by Fixing It”
Early in chapter 4, Steven Johnson’s (Future Perfect) idea of “liquid democracy” is criticized:
“… experts, who end up accumulating votes from less-informed voters, are presumed to be omniscient; they know the ‘truth’ and thus need not deliberate, bargain, or compromise. No wonder voting is all that’s left. This is a very immature view of politics. It’s also extremely utopian in assuming that the less-informed voters will be able to find experts on every subject that they do not know about and verify their credentials in a given field.” (Pages 109-10)
More reasons why direct democracy is impractical. Americans Elect, the latest movement to break up the two-party system, had a major surge leading into the last presidential election (2012). Whether digitally or not, the point of this discussion is not whether we should lean more into individual’s rights versus the common good; rather, how is the combining of solutionism and “the Internet” conspiring to weaken our critical institutions. Politics needs a theater as much as any other profession. If we truly took out all of the emotion from politics, then the public would care less and democracy would suffer.
Henry Giroux sounds the alarm. He provides the academic seal of approval on the New Left. “Radical Democracy” looks like institutional anarchy — a bureaucracy of chaos. We should preserve the arena and the process of politics as we know – such as our Western view of deliberation, voting, elections, and representation – and we must also preserve the mobility, transparency, and variety (also referred to as difference) too.
“Zombie politics and Casino Capitalism” fits in nicely with the IT industry’s love affair with “individual action” and “specific issues.” “Collective pursuit of shared goals or solidarity” can best be achieved by the sum of each individual’s actions. Big Business sells to the customer directly, and when all is added we behold a market.
Nathan Daschle, one of the founders of Ruck.us, which is a robotic replacement for the current two-party system, is quoted as saying, “… we now expect options, tailoring, customization and immediacy, none of which is available in the 19th century creation that is our two-party system….”
The author of our book, Morozov, pipes up with a couple of pages about “nothing new:” “Antipartyism is not unique to our modern, Internet-centric times” and nods to Progressive Era “voluntarism.” A table of pros and cons falls into place and the negatives outweigh the positives in number (or quantity) but who knows how to weigh the true value (or quality).
On political parties, as according to Harvard professor Nancy Rosenblum:
… voters find them off-putting; special interest groups and rich donors find it all too easy to exploit them; parties can be too slow to respond to public opinion and prevent their members from tackling important problems on their own. But, for all those faults, parties also play an important—and often invisible role—in making political life both more reasonable and more creative. They regulate rivalry and mediate deliberation, throwing weight behind important issues of the day.” (Pages 114-115)
Competition breeds quality, unless, of course, if you are beating a dead horse. “Permanently pluralist politics” can be just as boring as totalitarianism. How entertaining is North Korea versus Syria? For the sake of argument, the author tries to give credit to the virtues of hypocrisy, inconsistency, mendacity, and ambiguity. This is the most bizarre part of the book and weaves throughout. Apparently, some of the problems Big Business aims to fix, like the laundry list above, are actually good and necessary.
Guilt can be an effective motivator, but if society worked to eliminate guilt from the public sphere would that be appreciated by all? We are to believe that life would be a bitter pill to swallow if our politicians did not occasionally lie to us and tell us that everything will be alright. In fact, everything is better than ever. In Orwellian terms, chocolate rations are going up and the three-year plan is over fulfilled.
“We must not fixate on what this new arsenal of digital technologies allows us to do without first inquiring what is worth doing.” (Page 124)
We can accept a Google-ocracy or “the Internet” will destroy us regardless. The tech elites wish to see networks decentralized and leaderless structures proliferate. With both the 1% and bottom 50% of socio-economics preparing for the end of the world, it is stunning to see government continuing to operate to any extent. A “shutdown” more pertinent to most of the electorate, involves his or her entertainment center. Black-out key pirate hubs online, take down a few adult sites, and “net neutrality” magically transforms the conversation. Don’t bite the hand that feeds.
The tree that bears fruit may no longer stand as a tree. “In this RSA Animate, Manuel Lima senior UX design lead at Microsoft Bing, explores the power of network visualisation to help navigate our complex modern world.”
“Another of [Peter] Thiel’s many quixotic initiatives is to support permanent, autonomous ocean communities, where geeks work, live, and experiment outside the jurisdiction of the state.” (Page 129)
“Autonomous ocean communities” are a reality, but to what extent. And will they grow to become the New-est “New World” to manifest on this planet? For if Western History be our guide, we know that the newest markets are the most profitable to exploit. Oil, Steel, guns and drones. May the victor take the ring and celebrate. The next empire is being built as we speak. If you need further proof, then look no further than the changes occurring in currency. The disappearance of cash and the rise of Bitcoin, and other new world currencies, signal the “end of monetary sovereignty” in the hands of traditional government.
“Fixing potholes and dealing with stray dogs” should not be the highlights of local politics, or the extent of political imagination. “Technocracy” or “Technopoly” cannot inspire a revolution. Efficiency is a drug that sedates and builds dependency. From Asimo to Asimov. When my best friend is replaced by a robot, I hope that I recognize the loss.
Is truth just a binary function? The mortal man’s fault is what distinguished him from the gods. We may deify our Founders, and surely unalienable rights are divine throughout all time. Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Join or die. Define “Pursuit.”