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

Monday, May 18, 2009

Politics Reduced Is Politics Denied

Upgraded and adapted from my response to "Jef" in the Moot:

My distinction of science and politics is not so stark that I am insensitive to their inter-implication. For one thing, politics obviously suffuses actual scientific practice as it does every other social enterprise. It just doesn't define what is distinctive to science and indispensable in it, in my view. For more on this, read my Is Science Democratic? from 2005, and Science, Politics, and Administration from a couple of months ago.

As for "systems evolving" where you do not seem to mean by these "systems" vulnerable reproductive organisms in a metabolism with their environments, I can only assume that you are speaking metaphorically and I must impress on you that confusing the literal and the figurative is always obfuscatory, and that once we grant we are in the realm of the figurative proper the standards of judgment quite properly shift. The promiscuous overapplication of the figure of "evolution" to practices of knowledge making, meaning making, order making seems to me to be little more than bad, unoriginal, and mostly unilluminating doggerel poetry, and I disapprove it as such.

More to the point, this overapplication of evolutionary frames to public and social dynamisms functions above all else to evacuate politics of their actually definitive normativity, reducing them from a contestation of "ought" assertions to a contestation of "is" assertions. But politics in my view simply isn't reducible to a matter of engineers debating the cheapest and sturdiest way to span a gorge, politics is more a matter of debating whether or not we live in a world that is better with or without the bridge. Politics reduced to instrumental calculation is politics drained of freedom, drained of its raison d'etre, and the wish-fulfillment fantasies sold in the name of "the future" in which that instrumentality presumably would be amplified into superlativity or progress-without-end can never compensate that initial mutilation.

Notice, it's not just silly robot cultists who mobilize this superlative gesture: They just make the move in a facile and dramatic way that exposes its absurdity and regressivity especially palpably. But this logic suffuses prevailing neoliberal technodevelopmental discourses and technocratic design discourses more generally as well.


Anonymous said...

Off-topic: Have you read Athena Andreadis's piece If I Can’t Dance, I Don’t Want to Be Part of Your Revolution! on the Sentient Developments blog and the IEET website?

It's what you have been arguing for years so it will be interesting to see how robot cultists react!

Antonin said...

"But this logic suffuses prevailing neoliberal technodevelopmental discourses..."

Oh how it still does.

As some other blogger said in a great piece, 'socialism' (government-not-in-the-process-of-being-evacuated-via-revolving-doors) was always given only one (if at most) chance to succeed, and then promptly declared failed and idealistic (in some fabled 70s or something). Neoliberalism, however, no matter its excruciating costs (at least millions of lives worldwide during the second part of the twentieth), can always be 'fixed', 'bailed' or 'remade' - in the most superficial sense of being suffused with renewed public funding, all under the cover of 'emergency' and the very real ideological conflation of the public interest and the interests of some narrow group of corporate and financial giants.

And still, you have people screeching for 'less government' and others waxing lyrical about their evolutionary understanding of civilization, politics and the modern state, all the while being robbed blind like peasants. Evolution indeed.