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

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Technoprogressive Applications of the Precautionary Principle

Chris Mooney contemplates with dread the upcoming hurricane season. No wonder, given how much of his family is in New Orleans (one of the three cities in America the existence of which makes it possible for me to feel something like patriotism occasionally despite the ongoing horror show of fundy know-nothingness, race hatred, mean-spirited privilege, and militarism), forevermore poised for destruction by heavy weather whatever the climate-change deniers say.

Here's the sentence in his brief post that really struck my fancy: "I'm still waiting for us to start thinking about the hurricane vulnerability of coastal cities as a meta-problem potentially requiring massive technological and engineering fixes to prevent catastrophic destruction -- in short, some serious application of the precautionary principle."

I could not agree more.

Together with post-Tsunami arguments one now sometimes hears about how the precautionary principle should inspire the creation of a global network to observe and warn people everywhere in the world about quick-looming climate-threats and mobilize disaster relief, as well as occasional comments one hears about how the principle might mobilize technological interventions to avoid extinction level asteroid impacts and other existential threats, all of these arguments suggest ways in which the precautionary principle can inspire reasonable people to invent and apply technological solutions to proximate problems.

This matters because the corporate shills and libertopians who have dominated so much technophilic discourse over the last couple of decades have long indulged an hysterical crusade against the manifestly reasonable precautionary principle, arguing that it expresses hostility for progress just because they rightly fear the more democratic developmental deliberation it champions and the fairer distribution of risks, costs, and benefits it would certainly demand will have an impact on the short-term profit margins that are all they really care about.

I made this argument in a more systematic way in a column a year ago called "The Need for Fair Risk," and elaborated the position a bit in a defense against some critics of that column in a post called "Two Visions of Precaution: Paranoia Against Proportion," and more recently connected precaution to peer-to-peer bioethics. After the blasted dissertation is filed (we're down to days, now, people!) one of the very first things I mean to do is weave the arguments of these papers into something tighter and more elaborate. Till then I am encouraged whenever I see such technoprogressive applications of the precautionary principle happening, and I'll try to report on them more often here.


The Onion Journal said...

It is dry.

jiri said...

Cool Blog, I never really thought about it that way.

I have a Hurricane Katrina blog. It pretty much covers hurricane related stuff.

Thank you - and keep up the thoughts!

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