Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Friday, September 02, 2005

The Technoprogressive Opening

Promoted and edited from MundiMoot.

I think of the technoprogressive term as a conceptual clearing in which discursive democracy is encouraged so as to faciliate the deliberation and organization of which practical democracy consists. But the technoprogressive opening is open not empty. It is key to recognize that a shared commitment to democracy and social justice is the precondition for that gathering, it is not dispensable.

Come what may, technoprogressives are drawn to think about ways we can use technology to deepen democracy and use democracy to ensure technology benefits us all. The term itself draws the people who share these commitments together, and then, just as significantly, strives to keep the conversation arising out of that shared commitment an ongoing one. There is an important sense in which freedom does not only emerge from that conversation but also consists in the conversation itself.

I personally clearly have an absurd number of opinions and recommendations and programmatic formulations to babble about endlessly most of which are considerably more specific than this general sort of commitment to technocentric progressivism. But I value the way technoprogressive discourse and practice will support a multiplicity of these more specific programs, campaigns, perspectives, and arguments -- among them my own. I like it as much as anybody does when cases I make in favor of positions I hold for good reasons prevail in argumentative encounters -- but I am glad there are other views being argued for by others for other reasons. Progress doesn't involve the implementation of a single vision, it takes a (global) village.

I especially want to refuse any identification of my own more specific or programmatic views with the "technoprogressive" term as such, however tightly associated I personally become with the term. "Technoprogressive" names and incubates a diversity of programs, campaigns, and positions, none of them definitive but all of them contributing to the conversation that builds and demands deliberative, democratizing, sustainable, emancipatory technological development. I want to insist on the urgent usefulness of a general discursive and practical location that does not harden into an orthodoxy around any specific program or platform or doctrine beyond a commitment to a left construal of democracy and social justice conjoined to technocentrism.

Face it, technophilia is a strange attractor for reductive scientisms, puritanical rages for order, transcendentalizing enthusiasms, fantasies of making everything new that devolve into genocidal prescriptions. It's for historians, ethnographers, and their therapists to say definitively just why that is. But technocentrics need ongoing deliberative recourse to an open space that breaks the crust of their conventions, softens their hardening orthodoxies, interminably mulches in new perspectives and sensitivities, renews their hopes and recalibrates their awareness.

For myself, I just want to find a way for the designation "technoprogressive" to remain general in the way the designation "progressive" already is. In this way, I hope it can function as a desperately needed cultural location that is broadly unifying for technocentric advocates of democracy and social justice but then remains open to diversity and ongoing contestation among the good people drawn to gather there.


Anonymous said...


Thank you for articulating a model for thinking about and delineating technoprogressive spaces. The formulation you provide has
given shape and color to many of my unconscious convictions concerning techprogressive politics. It's inevitable, however, that no matter how openly a conceptual scheme is constructed, it is bound to be exclusionary (at least to a certain degree).

My concern here is the reformulation of traditional party politics (as forcasted by many tech theorists); the redrawing of political maps which is supposed to come with the growth of techno phile/phobic perspectives. In the intuitive imaginary scenario that persistently pulls at the back of my throat, true diversity of opinion is undercut by the 'left' orientation you describe. After all, if techprogressive spaces are unifying places for liberal democrats, this may keep many more conservative politicos away. And while the room for dissent you provide for is certainly reassuring and perhaps even unparelleled, I am curious to see if marginal acceptance will be enough to draw informed, responsible, dissent forward into the liberal space you so accurately describe.


Dale Carrico said...


Thanks for these comments. Two thoughts occur to me immediately upon reading them.

First: In the longer term and in the larger scheme of things, technoprogressives will benefit from conversation with conservative temperaments devoted to preserving the real value of given forms or worried about change that is rash in its pace or scope.

It is hard to discern that qualification in my writings lately because the "conservative" term has taken on the specific unspeakably pernicious construal of neo/theoconservatism in America today to the peril and cost of nearly everyone on the planet and so I find it difficult to spend too much time providing what will amount to protective cover for evil deeds in the spirit of introducing the caveats and qualifications that ultimately need to be part of a more full technoprogressive model.

Hopefully this time will pass, my blood pressure will return to its normal levels, and I can become a little more laid back in these matters. :)

Of course, technoprogressivism also arrays itself against a more specific "bioconservative" form of conservatism, which has a fraught relation to both exisiting formations on the contemporary left and right and bypasses deliberative critique of technology with ideological deployments of parochial prejudices identified with the "natural." It is hard to see how technoprgressivism could ever come to much of satisfactory compromise formation with that viewpoint, but I do think it is crucial for technoprogressives to understand the reasons (many of them good reasons) that impel many people to bioconservate positions. Hopefully, that will be enough to make ongoing conversation possible.

Second: I think it is important to remember that morals, ethics, and politics are different but interrelated projects.

Morals (from mores) is based in practices of identification and disidentification. Ethics makes normative claims that solicit universal assent. Politics reconciles the plurality of human aspirations.

We all (me too!) have a tendency to speak of each of these projects in terms of the others, or to judge the success of these projects by standards arising from the others.

There is a sense in which people will deploy the term "technoprogressive" as a moral designation conjuration up a "we" and then the "theys" excluded outside of it. I think this is inevitable, and I think these moral practices produce valuable experiences of belonging and meaning that are finally indispensable -- however, I hope the real dangers inhering in these practices of exclusion and inclusion can be mitigated in their wider destructive potential by the ways in which "technoprogressive" names as well and more primarily a political designation commited to democracy and the abiding recourse to law and legitimacy as a nonviolent alternative to the violent resolution of disputes. I leave the ethical designation of technoprogressivism to a later disussion. Obviously, this is a highly abstruse and complex topic for which much could be said, and I'm not even sure it speaks to your concerns in any case.

Again, though, thanks for the interesting comments.

Dale Carrico said...

Oh, and by the way, do join the technoliberation list if you haven't done so already. It's easy via the button on the blogroll to the left. I think you'll like the discussions unfolding there and your voice would be a welcome one. d

Anonymous said...

The dissection and emulsification of philosophical principles you've added to the discussion is pertinent and welcome, dale. and I fully understand the desire to articulate a non-protective scheme of understanding in relation to the theocratic/oligarchical insanity that has gripped the white house like a black glove besmirched with poison feces. the spaces for a comprehensive communication of dissent are becoming sacred in our Rupert Murdock theme park (imo though, there are encouraging signs: like NPR finally getting up the courage to report news in a more fair and balanced manner).

The detail and comprehensiveness of your vision is clear and understandable in the response you've provided---which allows me to (tersely) bring more color and dimension to my concern:

I fear there may have to be a radical shift in the way people participate in politics and identify with political groups (ie,. techprogressive, democrat, etc) for there to be any real dialouge in multi-voiced spaces that can lead to productive give and take on a national scale. I don't think this is a high-brow (mistrustful, condescending) perception of popular politics. I see it, rather, as a skeptical engagement of politics as entertainment and derision.

This does indeed lead us into the spheres of morality and ethics. But since people identify good and bad, right and wrong, by accessing cultural wisdom and that 'belonging' organ you so neatly describe, the changing of identification patterns is a very questionable endeavor (especially if coercion and other types of manipulation are ethical fires for you: while they fuel everything, we like to keep them in a safe place, sometimes under a pail.

but like you said, this is a much bigger subject than I thought at the outset. However, thank you for addressing my concerns, and inviting me to join Techliberation. I'll see you on the boards there.