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

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Negotiating the Ends of Diversity and Objectivity in Technoprogressive Policy Discourse

Technoprogressive folks have to negotiate an interesting and really tricky quandary, it seems to me. We have to find ways to coherently affirm, at one and the same time
[one] the force of warranted consensus scientific results in determining the proper responsibilities of accountable elected representatives and unelected administrators in relatively democratic societies, on the one hand, while on the other hand affirming

[two] the prior and ongoing force of the expressed ends and concerns of the actual diversity of stakeholders to technoscientific change in such relatively democratic societies.

It's too easy for utilitarian/technocratic discourses to prioritize what they take to be expressions of scientific objectivity over expressions of democratic diversity.

Too often the language of utility will trump the language of freedom when intuitions about general welfare are getting mobilized by technocentric discourses:

Consider how the language of "optimality" or even, simply, "health" can circumvent concerns about informed nonduressed consent, plurality, and so on in biomedical policy formulations. Consider how the language of "urgency" and "existential threat" can circumvent concerns about public deliberation, secrecy, budgetary priorities, and so on in security policy formulations.

And these examples can be endlessly multiplied where mainstream corporate-militarist futurist and/or superlative technophiliac discourses are concerned, I'm afraid.

I must say, it is intriguing indeed to note just how often the accomplishment of these technocentric circumventions of the political (sometimes expressed in the ugly gutteral tonalities of libertopian ecstasy, sometimes with the wheedling "reluctance" of technocratic elites who "wish" that the masses could be equal to the complexities they themselves prioritize, but, sigh, it is just not so), will be followed thereupon by formulations that seem always only endlessly to bolster incumbent interests (usually the proximate profits of the major stockholders in and officers of certain multinational corporations which rather mysteriously come to represent "science," "progress," "free markets," "civilization" and so on) over actually available and widely desired alternatives, and hence to connect almost always only to de facto conservative politics.

Technocentric readers tempted here to launch into boo hoo protestations about their own good intentions note well, if you please, that "de facto" there. The force of my point is not -- necesssarily -- to attribute malign explicitly anti-democratizing intentions to all futurists and technophiliacs (only to some), nor would the demonstrable niceness and earnest well-meaningness of particular futurists and technophiliacs insulate them -- necessarily -- from this critique (only for some). The point is to elaborate some of the structural tendencies of technocentric analyses and policy language, given the specific histories of authoritative technoscientific discourses, given the corporate-militarist context that articulates contemporary technodevelopmental discourses, and so on.


jfehlinger said...

> [H]ow often. . . these technocentric circumventions of the political
> will. . . bolster incumbent interests (. . . which rather mysteriously
> come to represent "science," "progress," "free markets," "civilization"
> and so on). . ., and hence to connect almost always only to de facto
> conservative politics.

Yes, and of course as Ann Coulter, Dinesh D'Sousa, et al. will
tell you, only the conservatives know how to think at all. They
own not just "science", but "rationality" itself.

'Course, we're just a couple of girly guys, so what do we know about

Speaking of which, there's a curious subtext to all this that I
came across in a book I was browsing in recently:

"[M]ost men until they experience a crisis deny that there
are any problems ("Everything's great!") and after a shattering
crisis demand a quick, external solution. . .

The masculine male. . . pursuing the illusion of 'how to's,'
wants a mechanical solution to a nonmechanical problem. . .

When we say that something is 'unscientific' or nonobjective,
it is equated in our society with 'unmanly.' It is 'tender-minded.'
Psychology, to the extent that it focuses on the personal and
the internal, is experienced as feminine, and therefore
unscientific and useless. . .

There is a significant difference between the constructive use
of intelligence and the defensive process of intellectualizing.
There is a major difference between the rational search for
answers and the distanced, mechanical, externalized, and 'cut off'
orientations of the masculine process where the intellect is
used as a protection against internalization. . .

The male, in proportion to his masculine defensiveness, is
'out of touch' with process. He is 'surprised' by sudden and
unexpected turns in personal [and political?] events because
his externalization creates a personal superficiality and an
inability to. . . even see when he is being manipulated in
a personal relationship. . .

The alternatives to solving his problems are perceived by him
in black-and-white terms: Either 'I control or I am controlled.'
Situations are perceived in terms of opposites: 'If I am not
masculine, I become feminine. If I'm not logical, I become

From Herb Goldberg, _The Inner Male_, Chapter 16 "Pursuing the
Illusion of 'How To'"


jfehlinger said...

From -- official website of the
author of _Intellectual Morons_ and _Why The
Left Hates America_:

"The Ultimate Warrior is one of the biggest stars in
the history of modern wrestling. He turned his back on
the business to pursue, among other things, an intellectual
calling promoting his philosophy -- Warrior Conservatism. . .

FLYNN: Who are some thinkers and some authors that you have
read that you have got something out of?

WARRIOR: All kinds. The Iliad and The Odyssey are great stories
written beautifully. Young guys always want testosterone-driven
stories, I tell them to read Homer. The writings exchanged between
the Founders are awesome and inspiring. American history is too.
History by Plutarch, Thucydides, Gibbon, Herodotus —- all that stuff
from the Great Books writings is great. Aristotle’s _Ethics_ is a must-read.
De Tocqueville and Adam Smith too. Russell Kirk, I’ve gotten a lot out
of him and also got turned on to many other traditional conservative
thinkers through him, especially _The Conservative Mind_ that he authored.
Any Rand. I got a lot out of reading Ayn Rand. I part ways with her
atheism. . . But the philosophy she laid out in detail, Objectivism,
is truly the philosophy we all live by to survive on this Earth.
I think as corrective for young people with their subjective heads
up their butts, her writings are the best to suggest. Of course,
all the Founding documents too. So much lies in those documents
and the Federalist papers about what was dependent upon the people
for our Republic to survive, the virtues and the morals.

FLYNN: Others?

WARRIOR: Yeah, many. Albert Jay Nock, Irving Babbitt, Coleridge, Randolph,
Fenimore Cooper, George Santayana, Solzhenitsyn, Whittaker Chambers [but
presumably **not** his review of _Atlas Shrugged_], a little William F. Buckley,
Thomas Paine —- I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves, I mean
he did create “United States of America” and did more to inspire the
colonists to revolt than any other...he was vilified because people took
his book _The Age of Reason_ (great book itself) and contextually
twisted into something it was not. Oh, there are many others.

Contemporarily, I really dig Victor Davis Hanson’s books. He’s a brilliant
classicist and eloquent writer who writes about what the serious detrimental
effects are of losing our historical and cultural ties to Western Civilization.
I don’t read much fiction -— some of the great stuff is an exception,
like George Orwell. [Friedrich] Hayek. Thomas Sowell. Bill Bennett has
done some great anthology books pulling together a lot of the Founders'
literature and correspondence and I always enjoy getting back into
them. I read some current stuff but not as much as I stick with the
classical, Great Books stuff. I thought your book, _Why The Left Hates
America_, was awesome and filled with great ammo to fight the fight.
As are Coulter’s books and many other modern books. There are just
so many and only so much time.

FLYNN: . . .[I]f you were to recommend one or two books to
a nineteen or twenty-year-old conservative, what would you

. . .

WARRIOR: Well, I would start with _The Conservative Mind_.
Goldwater’s _Conscience of a Conservative_. I would also suggest,
to provide a good overview of the cultural degeneration and
where we’re at, _Slouching Toward Gomorrah_ by Robert Bork.
It’s a great read with a broad but detailed overview. Dinesh D’Sousa’s
simply-written book _Letters to a Young Conservative_. The Bennett
books I mentioned. And Ayn Rand, some of her non-fiction stuff from
_Who Needs Philosophy?_ and _The Virtue of Selfishness_ or
_The New Intellectual_ -— at the least these books will prep a
young kid's mind on how to think and where to go next to find more.

. . .

WARRIOR: We need to get back to a place where we don’t
tolerate PC. Too many representing the conservative side
in the public debates -— the news and writers and other
punditry -— don’t follow through with their punches. The
consequence is that these people are compromising us right
out of a country. I don’t believe that about conservatives
in general, the ones out there in the real world making their
lives and their families lives work. I think they are sitting
there thinking the same thing as me -— Quit letting the PC
and moral relativity slide! Judge something! Fight for what
I really believe! But as far as those faces and voices getting
the airtime to fight, they are wimpy and too PC themselves.

Conservatives have got to quit tolerating the moral relativity -—
that there are no right and wrong, no true or false, no good
or evil. Moral relativity is the greatest danger we face today.
People, today especially, will say that terrorism is the
gravest danger we face. I say: not if we can’t even call it
the evil that it is. I’ve been hammering this home since my
first speech at CPAC 2003. In fact, I took a quote from your
book, _Why the Left Hates America_ and some other books that
told the same thing: there’s no place to go in a debate if
people don’t accept rationality or reason, reality, what
the truth is.

Even too many of the conservative kids, too many of them want
to go out and make compromises. Stay in the gray and refuse
to call things as they are -— black and white."

(books by Dan Flynn:
_Intellectual Morons: How Ideology Makes Smart
People Fall For Stupid Ideas_,
_Why The Left Hates America: Exposing The
Lies That Have Obscured Our Nation's Greatness_)

Wonder where Hulk Hogan stands in the Culture Wars.
On second thought, I don't want to know.