Saturday, June 17, 2006

People Powered Politics and the Emerging Technoprogressive Mainstream

Over the last thirty years an alliance of established religious and socially conservative powers as well as moneyed elites in the United States confronted the likely proximate eclipse of their power in the face of a few inter-related developments: the postwar rise of largely middle-class popular democracy, technoscientific destabilization on many fronts (waves of media reinvention from print to broadcast to p2p, the pill and assistive reproductive technolgies [ARTs], global transportation networks, generations of both proscribed and mandated neuroceuticals, WMDS, and so on), and broad secularization with its attendant compensatory fundamentalisms. The elite leaders of the movement conservatives built an institutional universe of alternative "ideas"/PR, "thinktanks," media and communications infrastructure, fundraising tools, and a strategy of selective targeted manipulation of certain institutional weaknesses in the constituted form of American democracy (like the electoral college, an exclusive two-party system, a vulnerability to expansive executive wartime powers, money-as-speech, the fall of the Fairness Doctrine, etc.) to maintain and consolidate their powers, privileges, and prejudices in the face of these vast ongoing contrary social, cultural, and technoscientific tides.

We are living, of course, in the moment of the great contradiction and culmination of this movement, the moment when this machinery achieves its greatest hegemony as well as its abject failure (since the machine reflects only the desire to hold power, not to legitimately govern or otherwise respond to the world, this failure at the moment of its greatest success is scarcely suprising).

The lesson of the "successes" of this conservative movement for the likes of technoprogressive folks like us are the same as the lessons of the progressive era, the early years of the labor movement, and of many comparable movements as well: Organization, education, and direct action can shape institutions and popular opinion in relatively democratic societies in time to address perceived needs with a scope and in timescales that may seem impossible to the players themselves in the midst of history's storm-churn itself.

One reason I think Americans can change quickly and radically enough to redirect worrisome technoscientific developments (insanely destructive devices, panoptic surveillance, industry-induced climate change and species extinctions, intrusive homogenizing "therapeutic" medical regimes, and so on) to democratic and emancipatory ends instead is because I believe many of the problems that demand the strongest redress to accomplish this emancipatory rearticulation of technoscientific development are at root problems of basic accountability and transparency for public authorities (government, corporate, academic), problems of corruption, problems of media consolidation, problems of the corporate-military co-optation of civic life, problems of threatened democratic and deliberative processes, problems of defending and funding universal entitlements, problems of securing universal education to satisfy the demands of democracy for a literate, numerate, critical, and civic-minded citizenry, problems of deeply conservative intellectual property regimes, and so on.

What technophiles sometimes seem to mistake as the problem of a certain basic cultural hostility or skepticism to "technology" in general is, I think, actually often more accurately described as a sensible skepticism and resistence to technodevelopment as it is currently defined by selective deregulation in the interests of corporate-military elites and selective regulation to reflect the prejudices of religious and socially conservative minorities.

The politics are prior to the technological toypile on offer. I am personally almost endlessly frustrated by what appears to be an abiding indifference and naivete about political matters evidence by many "technophiles." This is an indifference that at its most extreme effloresces as the actively anti-political hostility at the core of technocratic attitudes and, especially, in the libertarian viewpoints espoused by so many technophiles who do take politics seriously enough to think about them in any kind of sustained way. But apart from the fact that this is an insight that inspires frustrations in me (and of course I write in ways that reflect this frustration here at Amor Mundi all the time), it is also true that the priority of the politics over the toypile to the actual shape of techscientific development in history is cause for real hope (and I think it is fair to complain that I don't write often enough here at Amor Mundi in ways that reflect this hope).

The rise of people-powered politics associated with the internet, the blogosphere, emerging peer-to-peer models of organization, criticism, content provision, security in depth, small donor aggregation, all of this is creating a vast, passionate, incomparably transformative democratic movement in response to the catastrophic conservative movement I have been talking about here so far.

Much of what technoprogressives demand from technodevelopment will be accomplished through the achievement of democratic reform: election reforms, energy reforms, healthcare reforms, welfare reforms, green reforms, anti-corporatist reforms, anti-corruption reform, civil liberties reforms, progressive tax reforms, intellectual property reforms, media reforms, education reforms and the like. And what matters about this is that energetic movements to demand and direct these reforms are already underway. They constitute what is unquestionably the most exciting political movement abroad in the land today.

As I have often pointed out before, I am not surprised in the least to discover that this people-powered reality-based movement of anti-corporatism and democratization understands its debt to technological developments like digital networked media and also embraces technoprogressive positions on peer-to-peer, renewable energy technology r & d, copyfight and creative commons, consensus science oversight and education, assistive reproductive technologies, stem-cell research, and medical research more generally. The new democratic majority is an emerging technoprogressive mainstream.

Not to put too fine a point on it, this is one of the reasons why I consider it absurd in the extreme to accept neologistic labels with weird histories and confusing entailments like "dynamist," "upwinger," "transhumanist," and the like to describe my work and my hopes. I have strong reasons to believe that the people who want to use technology to deepen democracy and democracy to ensure technology benefits us all are shaping up to be the people we call, in America, well, simply Democrats.

Finally, it bears mentioning that the chief historical consequence of movement conservatism is likely in the end to be that in their efforts to preserve elite privileges and prejudices at any cost the movement conservatives will have managed to devastate much of the American material, civic, and financial infrastructure domestically and military resources abroad. American exceptionalism and popular complacency has been rendered workable largely by the bubble of ignorance and apparent invulnerability to consequence long secured by its hideous military might and the corporatist culture of dumb distraction.

But costs are real, consequences are real, the world is real, and the bubbles are bursting. Americans will embrace the changes they must in part because greedy, short-sighted, panic-stricken conservatives have debauched the means Americans too long had on hand to evade their real responsibilities to the world.

The problems of technoscientific development are conspicuously global problems: WMD and arms trading, emerging pandemics, climate change, biodiversity issues, human rights abuses, neglected diseases, viciously unfair trade and labor practices, human trafficking, carrying capacity and longevity dividends and such. It is, in my view, frankly all to the good that the monopolar superpower that is a chief obstacle to the emergence of the protocols and intitutions of global democratic governance necessary to cope with these global problems step aside before it is too late, however gracefully or disgracefully it manages to do so.

Originally posted to Amor Mundi on June 9, 2006.

No comments: