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

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

What Prepolitical Reductivism Misses

An anonymous comment in the Moot yesterday takes issue with this point I made in a post yesterday:
It matters enormously to insist that what governments do isn't a matter of providing "services" like firms do, or at any rate, to realize that when one assumes the vantage from which it appears that this is what they are doing one inevitably loses sight of key ways in which governance differs from other organizations…. Legitimacy simply is not a service in this sense. Providing nonviolent alternatives for the resolution of disputes in the scene of nonduressed consent is not a service, it is the establishment of justice, it is the opening of the space of freedom as such.

The comment proposes, very plainly: You pay taxes, and you get order/justice.

Again, I do not deny that one can assume a perspective from which that is all one sees in governance. But my point is that you lose much more than you gain from such a reductive perspective.

By yoking taxation to representation one ensures that the institution defined by its exclusive legitimate recourse to violence (with all the vulnerabilities to corruption and abuse inhering in that monopoly) is beholden to the people in whose name it exercises that recourse in order to gain the revenue it needs to exercise that function in the first place.

As I pointed out in this piece, already trying to explain the inter-implication of the democratic and p2p ethos in our own historical moment:
Progressive taxation of property and income provides the means to meet the basic conditions on which the doubly foundational scene of consent depend, while at once providing a popular check (no taxation without representation) on the dangerous policing authority of government as well as a check on the tendency of individual stakeholders -- especially those who happen to be momentarily invested with conspicuous wealth, authority, reputation, or attention -- to forget or disavow their ineradicable social and historical inter-dependence in the always collaborative project of creative expressivity and problem solving peer-to-peer.

If you just assume a dumbed down reductive vantage on governance from which all you can see are people pushing coin into an organization and finding a service popping out, your grasp will have become so impoverished as to constitute an essentially prepolitical take on the political. You may as well try to explain what is happening in a voting booth in terms of the average calories expended in filling out the ballot, and imagining the resulting insights adequate to the phenomenon at hand.

Again, as I discussed in yesterday's post:

"The essence of p2p systems is their facilitation of equity in diversity -- which is also precisely the work and effect of democratization.

"Most p2p projects are inaugurated by small groups or even single individuals and thereafter the bulk of their work is done by very few -- even if it is true that they 'out-compete' non-p2p formations because in their openness they also cheaply solicit the participation of endlessly many other one-time and small-time contributors as well. This could quite superficially be treated as 'centralized' in its effects however truly open it remains, if one squints as one looks at it.

"Actually-existing democracy functions rather similarly in its solicitation to participation in the actual processes of representation and administration. It is open to the participation of all, but usually attracts only the participation of the interested where they are interested and to the extent that they are interested. What undergirds this participatory expressivity, administration, and oversight, of course, is the democratizing virtuous circle of taking up violence always only to repudiate it, organizing the ineradicable capacity for force inhering in plurality always only in the service of the provision of alternatives to the violent resolution of disputes and for the maintenance of the scene of informed, nonduressed consent (the violation of which is always legible as violence: keeping the peace and protecting the scene of consent are essential correlates).

"Law is code, code is law. What the architecture that facilitates p2p is to those who experience the emancipatory substance of the p2p ethos, the law that facilitates the scene of informed nonduressed consent is to those who experience the emancipatory substance of the democratic ethos.

"The test and the sign of p2p is precisely the same as that of democracy -- whether it actually facilitates equity in diversity….

"The task of legitimate democratic governance is to make and then preserve the peace and to produce and then protect the scene of consent (and yes it assumes legitimate recourse to violence in facilitating permanent alternatives to violence in so doing, with all the risks and costs and benefits inhering in this paradoxical gesture). …

"In a nutshell, democratic government should ensure that consent is informed by providing free life-long education and free universal access to reliable knowledge, and protections against fraud and deception, and that consent is nonduressed by providing universal healthcare and a universal basic income.

"This provision produces freedom, it produces peers (social stakeholders with actual equity in their actual diversity), it produces the substance of open collaboration and contestation….

"For me, the poles that count are participatory democracy against elite incumbency… I see neither pole as an ideal, but both as ongoing processes of interested and interminable struggle, one the struggle to ensure that ever more people have ever more of a say in the public decision that affect them, the other the struggle to ensure that the incumbent interests with whom one most identifies control as much as possible (sometimes, they rationalize, for the good of all).

"p2p is democratizing in its effects, which would remain just as true even if these effects were facilitated through the administrative implementation of the scene of informed, nonduressed consent by way of a mandated basic income guarantee and access to reliable knowledge…."

Almost none of this substance is visible from a reductively prepolitical vantage.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I will call order/justice "order" for this post so I don't use "/" as much.

The perspective can tell you how to govern well. Voters can remember that the only purpose of government is order, and (1) try to get more order for less taxes, and (2) make sure the government doesn't do anything that doesn't increase order or decrease taxes. (I guess the government could increase taxes a bit for much better order, or decrease taxes a lot for slightly worse order.)

All I said was that governments give order for taxes. This has nothing to do with most of your post, which is about p2p democratization. I didn't see the part about free education and universal health care, but education would help both order and taxes, and universal health care might help taxes.

Anonymous said...

(1) try to get more order for less taxes, and

What exactly is "more order"? If such things could be measured, we'd live in a true utopia already. Oh, you can say, that whatever happens to be your political theory of choice provides such a measure. But this is largerly illusoty. "The Order" of Louis XIV, was as different of "The Order" of, say, Abraham Lincoln that almost everything you do to increase one decreases another.

In relatively stable periods that more or less makes sense (but not always... "When we see rising crime rates in the US, we say that's social problem. When we see ones at home in the USSR, that's just lazy policemen, corrupt aparatchiks, and maybe a few bad apples among the others... Root them out and all would be fine! That's not how it works." - editorial in a Soviet magazine, circa 1989.)

Notion of "open futurity" while neither anarchistic nor Trotskyte, still calls for PERMANENT questioning of "The Order", not just at convinient revolutionarty times.

Definitely, that's by necessity putrely negative concept, so a positive projects for promoting particular visions of "an order" are necessary part of it. But unless one does not acknowledge that he may be wrong, that teir "an order" is nothing more than their best effort, (fallible in principle and finite in its application) not Universal Truth, you get faschism (or worse) as the end result.

Anonymous said...

Please, disregard one at 1:29 PM.

(1) try to get more order for less taxes, and

What exactly is "more order"? If such things could be measured, we'd live in a true utopia already. Oh, you can say, that whatever happens to be your political theory of choice provides such a measure. But this is largerly illusory. "The Order" of Louis XIV, was so different of "The Order" of, say, Abraham Lincoln that almost everything you do to increase one decreases another.

In relatively stable periods that more or less makes sense. (but not always... "When we see rising crime rates in the US, we say that's social problem. When we see ones at home in the USSR, that's just lazy policemen, corrupt aparatchiks, and maybe a few bad apples among the others... Root them out and all would be fine! That's not how it works." - editorial in a Soviet magazine, circa 1989.) But notions of what is "order" and "justice" do change over time, as does everything. Furthermore? you can't measurably say what makes one of those notions less progressive than another, or again, (quasi)Gegelian "The End of History" would be real.

Notion of "open futurity" while neither anarchistic nor Trotskyte, (those too postulate some kind of The End.), calls for PERMANENT questioning of "The Order", not just at convinient revolutionarty times. The End Of History, when all we're left to do is to "increase The Order for less taxes" would NEVER arrive.

Definitely, that's by necessity purely negative concept, so a positive projects for promoting particular visions of "an order" are necessary part of it. But unless proponents do not acknowledge that they may be wrong, that their "an order" is nothing more than their best effort at understanding, (fallible in principle and finite in its application) not Universal Truth, you get faschism (or worse) as the end result.

Anonymous said...

"Order" meant "order/justice." "Order/justice" is what the voters want, since they are the ones paying the taxes. (What is (good) car repair? It's something that could reasonably called car repair that the customer wants. Some "repairs" (fixing a scratch by painting the whole car a different color) might be unwanted.)

Anonymous said...

"Order/justice" is what the voters want
That's still not really that good a measure. Again, ask, say, XVII century Russian serf what he would want, - it would be "Better czar and less corvee". There were quite a few major rebellions in Russia in XVII-XVII centuries, - all lead by a czar wannabe, who would promise just that, not what you or I would demand of him.

Ask that same czar, - He would want more obedient nobles and more hard-working serfs. Connecticut Yankee fantasies aside, modern notions of how society works won't make sence to him, they would be grossly UN-just.

Modern market/democracy as is practiced is no less succeptible to that kind of blindness than Peter The Great. There might be better ways to do things we do, but we are blind to them, we want "better president and cheaper oil", not even seriously contemplating how presidency or petroleum industry could be _trnsformed_ in to something better. Not presidents, but presidency. Not industrialists, but industry. Not journalists, but journalism. Not workers but work itself.

Some (like extremelly simple-minded variety of Marxists or, yes, some >Hists ) may belive that such transformations could be achieved by technology alone, and all we need is "better aparatchiks, policemen and workers" in the interim, however, it is not how technology really worked last 200 or so years. Same technology can support politically vastly different choices. Also, these visions explicitly postulate "The End of History" All predictions of one to date failed.

The First Anonymous said...

Modern market/democracy as is practiced is no less succeptible to that kind of blindness than Peter The Great. There might be better ways to do things we do, but we are blind to them, we want "better president and cheaper oil", not even seriously contemplating how presidency or petroleum industry could be _trnsformed_ in to something better. Not presidents, but presidency. Not industrialists, but industry. Not journalists, but journalism. Not workers but work itself.

Could you suggest a better system?

anonimous #2 said...

Could you suggest a better system?
First, better to whom and how exactly it should be "better"? Is, for instance, "Brave New World" of Huxley "better" than ours? Or More's original Utopia?

Even given explicit specification of that kind I'd probably guess wrong. I suppose that abolition of work-for-hire faciliated first by some BIG-like redistribution (preferably global, likely to be funded by progressive taxation of capital and probably using some kind of BIG-only pseudocurrency), and then peer production practices would be sensible, as would be inquries into alternative energy.

I don't pretend that this would constitute any kind of final solution to all problems, not that it is the only way society WILL develop (or even necessarily one it SHOULD, although dissuading me of supporting such a projects would require more than just handvawing on how Pareto-unoptimal it is.) In other words I'm open to suggestions, while not necessarily accepting them.