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

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Was Tim O'Reilly's Success Just An Allegory All That Time?

Here is Annalee Newitz having the good sense to admit Morozov is right, but then scrambling to ensure that nobody who is wrong has to pay for being wrong even though they are profiting from being wrong:
the essay must be read as an allegory about a set of memes, not as a profile of a man. But Morozov is correct to identify a disturbing slipperiness at the core of the "open government" meme. It sounds like freedom but is really just another way of turning you into a passive data point, easily mined by the highest bidder.
So, were and are Tim O'Reilly's success and reputation and influence and profits all this time also just an "allegory"? Have all those tech enthusiasts been wrong all this time applauding O'Reilly's rhetoric and organizing?

I do not doubt that Tim O'Reilly may not fully grasp all the logical entailments of his views. I do not doubt that he may not fully grasp all the libertopian and reductionist and plutocratic conceits and discourses he is taking up in his formulations -- let alone know all the devastating critique of those conceits and discourses that have always been available all this time. Nor do I doubt that he may be a perfectly nice person who is kind to puppies and is distressed by the suffering of precarious majorities living under unsustainable corporate-militarist austerity and failure proposed and imposed by neoliberal discourse in which digital-utopianism and vacuous designer democracy played and still play their pernicious, indispensable parts.

But just because critics like Morozov see more clearly what the consequences of Tim O'Reilly's arguments and organizing and work have been than O'Reilly himself (and, come on, get real, he has to be pretty damn vapid not to have seen any of this if he didn't and pretty damn venal to see any of it and still go on with the circus act) does not mean that Tim O'Reilly is just some indifferent vector through which "memes" are spontaneously expressing themselves, you know. Even using the word "meme" at all at a time like this is to engage in meme-hustling as far as I'm concerned, given the existence of real words like "rhetoric," "ideology," and "culture" the substance of which are evacuated for the benefit of rogues through their replacement by the whole meme-show.

Morozov is declaring O'Reilly a particularly clarifying symptom of a "silicon mentality of sorts," and while that is different from declaring him a culpable pope-emperor of an Ayn Raelian armed conspiracy or something it is hardly a ringing endorsement of his innocence or suggestion of his irresponsibility for the words that actually came out of his mouth and the work he has actually done.

"Morozov's essay eviscerates O'Reilly's career," writes Newitz
in order to out him as a fake progressive who confuses entrepreneurialism with political freedom. In this story, O'Reilly is the indie rocker who sold out -- or maybe the hipster marketer who induced other indie rockers to sell out. Either way, O'Reilly's foundational crime is taking something radical and transformative like free software and mainstreaming it by making it palatable to entrepreneurs and consumers.
Actually O'Reilly is peddling crony capitalism as entrepreneurialism which in turn he is peddling as political freedom, and that is not a "confusion" so much as a facile fallacy bordering on fraud. O'Reilly didn't "mainstream" free software, he peddled a profitable alternative to profiteers and profited personally by it. And just because O'Reilly sells doesn't mean he is a "sell out." In what way has O'Reilly ever been truly "indie" or "hipster" ANYTHING? Are you kidding me? Is there any more straight lame crassly consumerist conformist techno-determinist self-promotional coterie to be found than the damned digirati? It was always true that it took more than not wanting to get drafted to count as a serious critic of US corporate-militarism (without the public investment in which Silicon Valley's rugged Randroidal revolution would have gone nowhere flat), and it is still true that it takes more than a psychedelic screensaver to be a serious progressive.

You know what? O'Reilly and all the Very Serious White Brite Long Now Media Lab Third Culture Netizoidal Futurologists? Their "open" is empty. Their "spontaneity" is reactionary. Their "participation" is consumption. Their "consent" is manufactured. Their "progress" is parochialism. Their "cyberspace" is coal smoke.

You know what else? Progressive technodevelopmental social struggle in the service of equity-in-diversity is possible, good democratic governance and its maintenance of a legible scene of informed, nonduressed consent to the terms of everyday commerce is possible, responsible maintenance of common goods and sustainable investment in public goods is possible. But it won't be Moore's Law, spontaneous "market order," or innovation of the self-appointed plutocratic "Creative Class" who are going lay equity, consent, commonwealth, and progress like golden eggs, it will be heartbreaking, painstaking, compromised people's work of education, agitation, organization, legislation as always.

You know what else, else? Richard Stallman was right about the reactionary commoditization of software. Jeron Lanier was right about reactionary cybernetic totalist ideology. Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron were right about reactionary California Ideology. Paulina Borsook was right about sociopathic Silicon Valley. Katherine Hayles was right about the incoherent citizen-subject of information theory. Donna Haraway was right to write her cyborg manifesto in a state of incandescant rage and the digirati were wrong to read it in a state of blissed-out ecstasy. And Evgeny Morozov is right, right now (and not for the first time).

I wonder would Newitz absolve a religious evangelist of reactionary views spewed from the pulpit as insistently as she does "tech biz evangelist" (her words) Tim O'Reilly?

It is necessary to say that the people who are wrong are wrong and to say why they are wrong and to stop listening to them even if that hurts their feelings when our problems are urgent and suffering is both real and unnecessary and there are people who are not so wrong as they are we could be listening to instead. A lot of pampered people irrationally exuberantly wanted to believe that they were on a rocket ship to The Long Boom and that this meant we didn't have to worry about poisoning the planet we live on beyond healing and exploiting brown people around the world to keep us knee-deep in landfill-destined crap. At any rate, they were willing to help pampered people draw these conclusions in exchange for lots of undeserved attention and cash. They were stupid and evil and wrong to think that, and now it is time to let other people try to clean up the mess and do the difficult work of education, agitation, organization, reform, and public investment to build a world worth living in. I don't really think we should have to stroke their egos and give them golden parachutes and tell them they how marvelous they are in addition to exposing their errors and cleaning their messes, but I have little doubt we shall have to as usual anyway. Definitely the howls attending the least exposure of their imposture suggest the tech skimmers and scammers, the digi hacks and hustlers want a lot more from us before they're through.

1 comment:

jimf said...

> I do not doubt that Tim O'Reilly may not fully grasp all the
> logical entailments of his views.

I rather doubt if he knows the meanings of all the titles of
the books in his now-vast programmer's library, either.

I've always liked the animal covers, though. ;->

There is, however, a certain dark irony in those covers --
that's something that's even crossed my own mind
on occasion.
Origin of Species: A History of O'Reilly Animals
by Edie Freedman

. . .

On a more somber note, working with the animal engravings has
made me much more aware of what is happening to our environment.
Many of the animals that appear on our covers are endangered --
the tarsier from Learning the vi Editor, the lorises from sed & awk,
the Victoria Crowned Pigeons from lex & yacc, and the Florida panther
from Java Foundation Classes in a Nutshell, just to name a few.
At the time most of the engravings were created, in the last century,
these animals were plentiful. Perhaps our use of animal images
on our covers will encourage people to work harder to save the species
that are still sharing the planet with us.