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

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Technophiles to the Left of Me, Technophiles to the Right

Promoted from the Comments, check out the whole discussion there.

Pace Arko wrote:
There are more progressives among the nerds of the last 30 years than the followers of Robert Heinlein or Jerry Pournelle would have you believe.

Name any science fiction writer of a right-wing stripe and I can name a better one who leans to the left. And we all know that one of the great grand daddies of science fiction, Herbert George Wells, was a Fabian Socialist through and through.

And I think I was there too -- back in those early days after Engines [of Creation] broke. I noticed visionary thinkers on the left that sat up and took notice just as soon as those on the right did. How can we forget Computer Scientists for Social Responsibility or the early days of the EFF or the Whole Earth Catalog?

Perhaps it just seems like the early advocates of this stuff were mostly anarcho-capitalist weirdos becuase those folks are more prone towards organized cultishness, something we on the other side of the aisle are rightly suspicious of.

There are a lot of interesting and encouraging observations packed in tight here. I quite agree with Pace about visionary left sf -- although I will admit to a perverse love of Heinlein despite the surreally awful opinions and attitudes he often espouses.

I also agree with him about CPSR, although I am a bit more ambivalent about the early days of EFF and Whole Earth. Don't get me wrong! I thought the folks at Whole Earth were the coolest cats in town -- for many of the same reasons I feel that way now about the folks who bring us WorldChanging today -- but I think there was a real libertopian streak in EFF that has somewhat but not yet entirely evanesced today, and a sort of left libertarian naivete that the Whole Earth mindset is likewise prone to. I don't know if you have read Cameron and Barbrook's essay "The California Ideology," but they nail the tendency on the head.

Certainly left libertarians should not be mistaken for venal market libertarians or retro-futurists of the Ayn Raelian type, but there is a certain Burning-Man-as-Spontaneous-Order vibe that too comfortably makes its home in the technophiliac left and that often amounts to a stealthy endorsement of the very same market mechanisms -- and in refusing to make an explicit argument for its market complacencies is sometimes even harder to combat for critical technoprogressives who know that what is necessary is to democratize the state, not smash it.

The left unquestionably learned such technophobia as it has now in the school of 20th Century Hard Knocks (examples Pace provides in his comment include "Minimata, Alamogordo, Bophal and the Holocaust"). I think and certainly I hope he is right to suggest that we on the technoprogressive left have found our way to some wisdom in the process.

As for the "optimism" of the technophiliac right wing free-marketeers and retro-futurists -- make no mistake! Their idea of optimism is indistinguishable from a predator salivating at the prospect of a meal. And not to put too fine a point on it, most of us appear to be in the lunch box.


Pace Arko said...

Yes, those are good corrections to my vague memory. Wasn't that Grateful Dead guy, who happens to be a Libertarian, a founder of the EFF? I do know that Stewart Brand occasionally hangs around with Global Business Network?

It's funny how technology appeals for different reasons to different political stripes.

I guess my own stripe is pretty close to the middle although my first emotional reaction to news might be classified as a leftward leaning one. Perhaps I'm just one of those wishy-washy liberals that Phil Ochs poked well deserved fun at.

Anyway, thanks for finding some insight within my burblings!

Pace Arko said...

Oh, and by the way, it's A-r-K-o not A-r-C-o.

Dale Carrico said...

Sorry! Corrected. d