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

Monday, May 25, 2009

Dispatches from Libertopia: Kevin Kelly Is Clapping Louder

Over at WIRED, futurological intellectual (read: indulgent self-promoter and corporate-libertopian hack) Kevin Kelly crows about The New Socialism, which amounts to the same tired ass neoliberal "dematerializing" (read: fraudulent financialization of the economy, profit via externalization of social and environmental costs, intellectualization, marketing, and logo-ization over actual production) "spontaneous order" (read: corporate-militarized global "free trade") moonshine California Ideologists have been brainlessly peddling and handwaving about for a generation to disastrous results.

We're not talking about your grandfather's socialism. In fact, there is a long list of past movements this new socialism is not. It is not class warfare. It is not anti-American; indeed, digital socialism may be the newest American innovation. While old-school socialism was an arm of the state, digital socialism is socialism without the state.

Class warfare? Over! It's time for some kick-ass 'murcan Innovation! Does that bottle have an e-z pour spout, yet? Let's get on it, people! The Future Is Now! Loot the state, doesn't Silicon Valley have any bazillionaires around who could buy up those services, deregulate that mess, make that engine sing? Hell, it's like you people never read Atlas Shrugged! It's time to eat civilization and have it, too. There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch, so, you know, like NO TAXES! Don't tread on me! I'm a white guy, I code software, don't make me Go Galt on your asses!

It's fairly flabbergasting that at the very moment when irrational irresponsible anti-governmental fervor has brought California and the Nation literally to the brink of utter ruin, Kelley still wants to chirp blithely on and on about "ad hocracy," and offer up dot-eyed greedhead digirati a "History of Socialism" that could fit on a soup label and includes both the entries, "1848: Marx & Engels' The Communist Manifesto" and "2009: YouTube: 100 million monthly US users."

It's like Kelly and his clown cohort never noticed that the "Long Boom" they were so completely sure about and so completely wrong about actually went Bust.

Remember: Dow 40,000, Man, extreme!

Remember: "Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone."

Remember: Extropians will abolish both death and taxes!

Who needs reality when you've got irrational exuberance?


Anonymous said...

Richard Barbrook provides a solid rebuttal in Cyber-Communism: How the Americans Are Superseding Capitalism in Cyberspace

Not only does he calls retro-futurists “reactionary modernists” but he writes in his Cyber-Communist Manifesto: “This right-wing futurism echoes the preconceptions of Stalinist communism. In the former Soviet Union, the enlightened minority was also leading the ignorant masses towards eventual emancipation. Any suffering caused by the introduction of new technologies was justified by the promise of future liberation. During the 1930s, Josef Stalin similarly measured progress towards utopia through the rising output of modern products: steel, cars, tractors and machine-tools. Although the Soviet Union has long disappeared, the ideologues of American neo-liberalism are still inspired by the Stalinist version of communism.”

Isn't that the best “No, you are!” retort in a time where Obama and Democrats keep being demonized as socialists?

Go Democrats said...

I'm not sure that the extropians will abolish anything besides rationality, as long as they are determined to refer to people as "meat."

mtraven said...

There's a lot of Kevin Kelly's work that deserves critique, but this particular article of his is far better than your hysterical and childish response.

Open source and peer production are, in fact, a rather excitingly new and at least somewhat socialistic form of property and production and deserve serious examination (the books by Yochai Benler and Steven Weber are a start). How much that impacts the rest of the economy, in which scarcity is still an issue, is an open question and one that deserves some serious engagement. All you are doing here is mocking Kelly for ideas that you seem to think are associated with him (going Galt? when was he in that camp?)

Here's a post I wrote on May Day about the economics of open-source work that tries to grapple with the some of the real issues. It's important to not fall into mindless cheerleading which is common (but not universal) in the Wired magazine world, but just as important not to be mindlessly reactive to it and dismiss the really interesting changes that are going on.

Anonymous said...

If sex is the last subversive act, technology is the only faith remaining after politics and religion have betrayed us.

- Steve Erickson, “Sex 1999,” Details Magazine

Dale Carrico said...

"Mtraven" is, no doubt, very serious, and I am enormously grateful that he sees fit to recommend to my attention that p2p and open source are actually serious topics with serious political implications that I might want to devote some attention to in the fullness of time.

Whole. New. Worlds. are suddenly opening up to my ignorant childish benighted little mind...

Be all that as it may, the Kelly piece was utterly laughable and you can be sure that both he and WIRED will survive my laughing at him, much is the pity.

The damage done by California Ideologists and the various schools of libertopian and corporate-militarist futurology, is all quite real, and this despite the fact that the ideology is perfectly ridiculous when subjected to the least bit of scrutiny and so fully deserving of my ridicule.

As it happens, I maintain that futurology is the quintessential self-justificatory and obfuscatory discourse of neoliberal "developmentalism," and I am eager to skewer it in many different forms -- including serious critique, parody, and complete dismissiveness, as the mood strikes me and as circumstances warrant, in my view.

I will cheerfully leave the more "moderate" "serious" "adult" take on this laughable piece of 90s-style anti-governmental digitech handwaving crapola to you, "mtraven." At least for today. Have at it.

Dale Carrico said...

Somewhat contrary to Steve Erickson, I must say that I find that sex is rarely subversive in fact, that technology doesn't exist as a generality despite the incessant misuse of that term, and that anybody who twists politics into a faith deserves to be betrayed by it. As for religion, it's never been my personal kink so I can't speak to that, particularly.

Anonymous said...

Carrico: Whole. New. Worlds. are suddenly opening up to my ignorant childish benighted little mind...


mtraven said...

Believe it or not, I'm mostly on your side. I was arguing down net libertarians while you were probably in elementary school; and extropian stuff gives me hives. But Kelly is not a libertarian; he's a ga-ga cyber-mystic, which is more interesting at least. Certainly his more gushy stuff deserves critique, but it deserves a critique of what he actually says. An article with an approving line like: The coercive, soul-smashing system of North Korea is dead; the future is a hybrid that takes cues from both Wikipedia and the moderate socialism of Sweden. cannot really be said to be coming from an anti-government libertarian perspective.

Dale Carrico said...

Believe it or not, I'm mostly on your side.Always glad of allies.

Kelly is not a libertarian; he's a ga-ga cyber-mystic, which is more interesting at least.I disagree with you on both counts. I'm not going to split doctrinal or terminological hairs about Kelly's libertopianism, he was and remains part and parcel of a libertopian tidal surge gew-gawing about spontaneous order and ad hocracy whether or not he swallows the full-on Anarcho-Capitalist Machinery of the Friedmans (pere or fils). My diss online as well as any number of pieces anthologized in the Superlative Summary attest to facets of my positioning on this question if you have the inclination to chisel through the word-avalanche.

Neoliberalism Neoconservatism Cryptoanarchy betray many differences that make a difference but they also exhibit family resemblances and buttress one another ideologically. My initial link to the California Ideology vis-a-vis Kelly still remains exactly the aptest recommendation in my book -- although Purdy's God of the Digirati also has its merits, as do pieces by Lanier, Hayles, and Paulina Barsook in this regard (lots of critiques of the irrational exuberants of the dot.bomb, among whom Kelly definitely was one) -- Kelly's mystic crystal revelations all too readily open onto "Third Way" embraces of corporate-militarism and pooh-poohing of anti-capitalist critiques as "negativity, dood."

You mention that this ain't your first trip to the rodeo -- believe me, I'm 44, I've been teaching and writing about p2p-democratization and corporate-militarist technocultures at UCB and SFAI for over a decade, if I seem prickly and short-tempered when it comes to WIRED spontaneists and hippy-dicks it's very much because I've witnessed the futurological congress in full-on hyperbolic retro-futural handwaving mode too many times at this point to count. I'll take your word for it, though, there is no need for us to trade war stories or exhibit photogenic scars.

Anonymous said...

mtraven: Kelly is not a libertarian; he's a ga-ga cyber-mystic, which is more interesting at least.

Me: Is that another way of saying “techno-utopian”? I guess that is “more interesting” in the sense of a symptom of a problem that needs critique rather than apology...