Technoprogressive Friend of Blog Nato Welch comments on this passage from a recent post:
Notice that I am proposing here not only that technocentric apoliticism and antipoliticism is actually a politics, but more specifically, that this highly political "apoliticism" will tend structurally to conduce always to the benefit of conservative and reactionary politics.
"This is a point that's new to me, and I am keen to get a real thorough grasp of the argument… I could not help hearing a rather disturbing echo of 'Either you're with us, or against us' that I can't say sits very well. How would you respond to that similarity?"
Who gets to be the "us" and who gets to be the "them" in this echo you are hearing?
In the passage you are quoting above I was just trying to make the point (probably clumsily) that literally every technoscientific and technodevelopmental outcome is historically specific, arriving on the scene through historically specific articulations (via disputation, social struggle, vicissitudes in matters of funding, and regulation, serendipities in the lab, eddies in communication, fashion, education, and so on) all of which are in some measure accidental and any of which could easily have been otherwise. These outcomes settle -- to the extent that they manage the feat -- into institutional, factual, normative, customary formations that are quite likely, however natural(ized) they seem for now, to become otherwise in the future through the very same sorts of articulative forces, as these incessantly sweep a world shared by free, intelligent, creative, expressive, provocative, problem-solving peers.
Given this historical specificity and given this contingency, it stands to reason that when technocrats or Superlative Technology enthusiasts, or even, sometimes, common or garden variety scientists and their self-appointed "champions" claim to have risen "above the political fray" or propose otherwise that they have assumed an "apolitical" vantage, through their "scientificity", from which to assess some desired technodevelopmental outcome -- actual, historical, or conjectural -- that the apoliticism or even anti-politicism associated (usually loudly, often triumphally, poor dears) with this gesture is an entirely rhetorical production.
That "apoliticism" in short always has, to be sure, a politics.
Now, the gesture of disavowing political considerations in the name of an "instrumentality," "physicality," or "neutrality" that goes on to do conspicuously political work is a gesture that can serve literally any political end. (This may be the force of the intervention you're making, Nato?)
However, I do think we can note that even if anyone, of any political persuasion, any "us" to any "them," can, in principle, opportunistically take up this sort of falsifying political protestation to apoliticism, it is also true that this is a gesture that will conduce especially to the benefit of conservative-elitist over progressive-democratic politics.
The reason I say this is found in the sentences that follow the one you quoted above: "[T]he essence of democratic politics is the embrace of the ongoing contestation of desired outcomes by the diverse stakeholders of public decisions, while the essence of conservative politics is to remove outcomes from contention whenever this threatens incumbent interests."
This tells you quite a lot about my perspective on politics. Forgive me if what remains of this response takes us into abstruse theoretical considerations that may be a bit perpendicular to your initial concern here. It seems to me that ultimately I cannot answer your question without saying a bit about where I am coming from at a more theoretical level.
I make an incessant point in my thinking and writing of distinguishing instrumental, moral, ethical, esthetic, and political beliefs from one another, distinguishing the different ends they facilitate and the different warrants that render them reasonable and so on. But it's also true that, like everybody else, part of my own project of coherent narrative self-creation (this is part of what I tend to identify with the esthetic dimension of our normative lives), involves efforts to weave these different modes of reasonable description and belief-ascription into an edifying and harmonious pattern, however idiosyncratic it may be.
Now, I am moved to advocate for social justice, for non-violence, for education, and for the amelioration of unwanted suffering on the basis of what amount to moral and esthetic (a word I use where many others would use the word "religious") considerations. These considerations, then, provide a personal moral and esthetic rationale for my democratic politics. I think that this is surely true for most champions of democratic politics.
But from a political perspective, properly so called, fairness, security, satisfaction, and the rest are primarily means to the end of ensuring to the best widest deepest extent possible that people have a say in the public decisions that affect them. Fairness, security, satisfaction inculcate the stake and amplify the say of democratic peers, that is to say, they bolster the scene of informed, nonduressed consent on which democratic contestation relies for its continued play through history.
The gesture of apoliticism seems to me to conduce to conservatism as a basic structural matter, since it tends to function to withdraw from contestation some settled outcome or what are taken to be a desired outcome's constitutive supports. Although this is a tactic that can be taken up opportunistically by particular "progressive" campaigns as easily as by "conservative" ones, in principle, the politics of the gesture itself are structurally conservative, in that they express a politics of depoliticization. And such depoliticization always props up the status quo in some measure, as repoliticization always threatens to undermine it by exposing and expressing its contingency.
Democratic-Progressives would be foolish indeed to make recourse to such a strategy of depoliticization with any regularity (if ever), else they will find themselves duped by incumbent interests in no time at all. Indeed, if we broaden the terms of this gesture, we find ourselves soon enough on the familiar territory of the mechanism of "selling out."
Once we ascend to this kind of meta-political level, though, it no longer is clear to me how "us" and "them" are meant to be functioning in your worries about my claim that apoliticism is structurally more conducive to conservative politics. If the "us" versus "them" is supposed to translate to something like "democrats" versus "anti-democrats" it seems to me part of the trouble is that most people will tend to be more democratic in some aspects of their lives than others, depending on what privileges they benefit from, what satisfactions they have come to imagine indispensable to the coherence of their narrative selfhood, and their awareness of conditions under which these privileges and satisfactions are secured and distributed. I daresay we all of us have democrats and anti-democrats within our own souls. Indeed, a recognition of what we ourselves are capable of when we feel insecure or ill-treated is probably a precondition for any reliable avowal of democratic over anti-democratic values. My point is, once we ascend to this level, I personally find it hard to figure out who "us" and "them" ultimately amount to.
It's not that I don't recognize that anti-democratic forces in the Republican Party in the USA, or among neoliberal and neoconservative and corporate-militarist partisans around the globe, have faces and names. Obviously I call them out here on Amor Mundi all the time.
My point is just to insist that the question of democratizing as against authoritarian politics is not properly exhaustively captured (or even well captured at all) in a tribalist evocation of "us" vs. "them." I strongly disagree, then, with thinkers like Carl Schmitt, who famously -- and my view absolutely falsely -- grounded his political philosophy in just such a friend-foe distinction. The indispensable satisfactions of membership (recognition, support, and so on) depend on the practices of identification and, crucially, of disidentification at the heart of moral life -- moral from mores, what Wilfred Sellars called "we-intentions." But with democratic politics we shift into the normative sphere of ethics, of formal judgments that solicit (even if they never achieve) universal assent. You might ask what is the point of distinguishing an ethical normativity the judgments of which, whatever their pretensions to universality, always look retroactively like judgments constrained by the parochial attitudes of their day. But, it seems to me, there is all the difference in the world between the end, the force, and the form of judgments that are defined by their exclusions (moral judgments generate communities constituted by the "theys" cast outside themselves) as against judgments that are defined by their aspiration to universal inclusion (ethical judgments generate a "scene" of deliberation to which all, in principle, may make recourse, the very notion of which depends on a prior understanding that not all who are reasonable enough to reason with are necessarily reasonable enough to identify with). Rights discourse, properly speaking, is an ethical rather than a moral discourse on my terms, for example.
Democracy is the idea that people should have a say in the public decisions that affect them. This "should" is a destination at which you can arrive through many routes: a conception of human dignity connected to consent, public visibility, respect for some bundle of rights, pragmatic insights about ways to guard against social instability, to undermine corruption in authoritative institutions, to provide nonviolent alternatives for the legitimate settlement of disputes, to facilitate problem-solving collaboration, whatever. But once one arrives at the democratic vantage (in its modern Enlightenment cosmopolitan construal, certain not in its ancient more aristocratic and plutocratic construal), then one has found one's way to a decidedly ethical point of view, and not a moral one. (Although, once again, for most people their ethical democratic sensibility will express, or at any rate bolster, moral beliefs that they have -- my point is that we profoundly misunderstand democracy when we reduce or confine our understanding to the various moral cases that can be made for it.)
After all, even the "theys" who contingently oppose some particular democratizing campaign as advocated by some formation of "us's" will nonetheless quite properly be construed as participants in the broader contestation of which democracy literally consists in the here and now. Again, this perspective does not diminish the democrat's capacity to distinguish allies from foes, nor diminish her capacity to assess tendencies, attitudes, outcomes as democratizing or anti-democratizing. But the democrat in affirming democratization does have to assume what sometimes seems a peculiarly bifocal perspective, defending particular outcomes as the most democratizing on offer, while defending at once a radical openness to contestation for all outcomes as the living implementation of democratization in the here and now (even if, sometimes these two affirmations will frustrate one another somewhat). This means, when all is said and done, that the pleasures and powers and knowledges constitutive of and unique to political and ethical judgment and action are not, properly so-called, moral(izing) pleasures at all, at least not once one has assumed the democratic perspective. For democracy, the satisfactions of membership in an "us" versus a "them" are confined to private pleasures and subjected to public skepticism.