Book Talk – Chapter 6
To Save Everything, Click Here:
The Folly of Technological Solutionism
by Evgeny Morozov
“Less Crime, More Punishment”To review our place in this book talk, we are passed the midpoint. Evgeny Morozov, the author of the book To Save Everything, Click Here has drafted a sharp treatise on “The Folly of Technological Solutionism” and systematically deconstructs our world today by pointing out silver-bullet schemes ricocheting all around us. Morozov is a methodical mind publishing article after article of profound analytical writing on various Social Sciences topics. Because his message is usually counter to the mainstream, he is not well known; yet, his ideas are necessary doses of medicine sorely needed today. Too often, contemporary debates are bound at superficial ends, propped up upon false dichotomies, or simply seated in the wrong chair.
Chapter 1 delved into the futility in trying to solve all of life’s problems and coupled with chapter 2’s breakdown of technology, the straw man was stuffed—Silicon Valley is secretly Montgomery Burns ready to release his hounds of technology on the public at large. Why are these information industry leaders valued so much on the stock exchange? Maybe their ability to extract profit keeps the window of transparency as a one-way mirror.
After exploiting the hypocrisy of “tech talk” in the first few chapters, Morozov pleads a case for the preservation of classic politics rooted in Machiavellian drama — chapter 4. And in the last chapter (5), the author fought for criticism employed by humans and for humans, as opposed to robotic assembly-line decision making controlled by algorithms.
Which brings us to chapter 6 and the issue is crime and punishment. Can we solve crime? Will we always have crime? Is crime a necessary part of life? Like poverty, crime may constantly scale up with changes in socioeconomic conditions — make a rule and someone will try to break it. Can punishment be solved or eliminated? Currently, education cheers positive behavior systems that reward rather than punish.
“The idea that opportunities cause crime and the consequent belief that environments ought to be designed so that crime becomes impossible lie at the foundation of a criminological approach known as situational crime prevention (SCP), which has been shaping criminology since at least the early 1980s. Unlike earlier welfarist approaches that focused on reforming the individual criminal and changing the underlying social conditions – the presumed drivers of crime – SCP-inspired approaches do not preoccupy themselves with questions of morality and reform. Nor do they seek to rehabilitate criminals by telling them what they have done wrong. SCP treats crime as something normal and naturally occurring rather than deviant, assuming that it is bound to occur whenever barriers and controls are missing.” (Page 190)
Pre-crime or thought crimes, the idea that social institutions can manufacture environments that force a human NOT to commit a crime suffocate our ideals of liberty. Youthful infatuation with zombie culture echoes the cry of the new living dead. The corporal person may walk the earth, but the soul is morally bankrupt. Why should one ponder why a rule is right or how it should be enforced and what causes the need for that rule?
“When Uncle Sam tells you to shut up, it’s censorship; when Apple does, it’s simply a contractual clause somewhere in the terms of service (which you never read anyway).” (Page 193)
Modern families should incorporate. Then, maybe there would be more support for protecting the rights of corporations and both the small and big would win, but more importantly people might start to regain their hard-fought civil rights that appear to be only valid under jurisdiction of the corporate law. As corporate prisons give rise to incentivized incarceration, we also lock up human capital and human capital of any kind is catalyst for economic growth.
“Laws that are enforced by appealing to our moral or prudential registers leave just enough space for friction; friction breeds tension, tension creates conflict, and conflict produces change. In contrast, when laws are enforced through the technological register, there’s little space for friction and tension – and quite likely for change.” (Page 205)
The same fears the public has for genetically modified organisms can be seen in the growing fear that law enforcement means rounded scissors, caps on the electrical outlets, safety helmets and all kinds of bubble boy hysteria that leads to too sanitary of a monoculture. The fear is that civil disobedience is threatened by efficiency. Even fans of the protest movements, throughout history, that have expanded liberties and improved the quality of life for more people, are nostalgic and yearn for longer sit-ins, grueling street marches, and dangerous police backlash; but, while today’s protest may be shorter and less violent, tomorrow’s protest may be even shorter and practically harmless. When a protest can be waged from your couch, are we really protesting still? Does every revolution need to be violent? American History has experienced peaceful political revolutions before and after the Civil War: the elections of Jefferson and Obama are notable peace-enduring revolutions. Need we break a sweat, or crack an egg, to make a delicious omelet.
“The trick here is to resist the simplifying temptations of techno-optimism and techno-pessimism and to assess each case of technological intervention on its own merits.” (Page 207)
If systems like automatic traffic ticketing (through stop lights equipped with built-in camera sensors) are extended in society, we could see a reduction in the quantity of trials brought to court to be evaluated by judges and attorneys and juries. Our judicial system is crucial and should not be circumvented; if anything, this should bring attention to the need for increasing our judicial services…but why? Why should we invest human capital in increasing our judicial services?
“Perhaps consumers in America and Europe need to be aware that their decision to seek better software to manage their photos could also complicate the lives of dissidents in China or Iran.” (Page 224)
Ubiquitous brain scans will root out the last cubic inch of private domain that remains in the individual. Science applied to society demands the double blind as well as the scientific method. Justice should be blind, but blinding the one seeking justice seems unnecessary. A safer world should not be purchased through blinding all, even if the one eye left is the best intelligence we have.
“In terms of theoretical warfare, the real enemy here is not criminology per se. Rather, what lends support to SCP-like approaches in criminology is our usual suspect: rational-choice theory (RCT). It’s RCT that smuggles the cult of efficiency through the proverbial backdoor; it has no purchase on questions of morality, character, and virtue and sidesteps those questions entirely.” (Page 208)
Paul Bloom, professor of psychology and cognitive science at Yale University, summarizes the argument for reason in the “The War on Reason:”
“The New York University psychologist Jonathan Haidt suggests we should reject the notion that we are in control of our decisions and instead think of the conscious self as a lawyer who, when called upon to defend the actions of a client, mainly provides after-the-fact justifications for decisions that have already been made. Such statements have produced a powerful backlash. What they represent, many people feel, are efforts at a hostile takeover of the soul: an assault on religious belief, on traditional morality, and on common sense.”
“Some determinists would balk at this. The idea of “choosing” to stop (or choosing anything at all), they suggest, implies a mystical capacity to transcend the physical world. Many people think about choice in terms of this mystical capacity, and I agree with the determinists that they’re wrong. But instead of giving up on the notion of choice, we can clarify it. The deterministic nature of the universe is fully compatible with the existence of conscious deliberation and rational thought – with neural systems that analyze different options, construct logical chains of argument, reason through examples and analogies, and respond to the anticipated consequences of actions, including moral consequences. These processes are at the core of what it means to say that people make choices, and in this regard, the notion that we are responsible for our fates remains intact.”
“When we know someone, we’re far more influenced by facts about that individual than about categories (or stereotypes) he or she belongs to.”
“What’s important to remember is that some scholars and journalists fall into the trap of thinking that what they see in journals provides a representative picture of how we think and act.”
“If you doubt the power of reason, consider the lives of those who have less of it. We take care of the intellectually disabled and brain-damaged because they cannot take care of themselves; we don’t let toddlers cook hot meals; and we don’t allow drunk people to drive cars or pilot planes. Like many other countries, the United States has age restrictions for driving, military service, voting, and drinking, and even higher age restrictions for becoming president, all under the assumption that certain core capacities, like wisdom and self-control, take time to mature.”
“Still, the relationship between IQ and success is hardly arbitrary, and it’s no accident that universities take such tests so seriously. They reveal abilities such as mental speed and the capacity for abstract thought, and it’s not hard to see how these abilities aid intellectual pursuits. Indeed, high intelligence is not only related to success; it’s also related to kindness. Highly intelligent people commit fewer violent crimes (holding other things, such as income, constant) and are more cooperative, perhaps because intelligence allows one to appreciate the benefits of long-term coordination and to consider the perspectives of others.”
“Such scattered and selected instances of irrationality shouldn’t cloud our view of the rational foundations of our everyday life. That would be like saying the most interesting thing about medicine isn’t the discovery of antibiotics and anesthesia, or the construction of large-scale programs for the distribution of health care, but the fact that people sometimes forget to take their pills. Reason underlies much of what matters in the world, including the uniquely human project of reshaping our environment to achieve higher goals.”
Is there such a thing as moral progress? And is “reason” the foundation? What are we building?