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Re: <nettime> Zittrain's Foundational Myth of the Open Internet
Felix Stalder on Wed, 15 Oct 2008 18:44:22 +0200 (CEST)


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Re: <nettime> Zittrain's Foundational Myth of the Open Internet


On Tuesday, 14. October 2008, Florian Cramer wrote:

> Coming back to "openness", I see the cybernetic beliefs attached
> to it less rooted in libertarianism than in classical liberalism.
> The blueprint of the concept to be found in Karl Popper's "Open
> Society and Its Enemies", a book that might well be called an
> 'implicit cybernetics' in that it determines a systemic framework
> for methods of steering a.k.a. policies. A serious historical,
> critical discussion of "openness" would have to start with Popper
> and try to determine whether his "open society" is indeed the model
> which all or most players in the field of "open technology" and
> "open media" implicitly subscribe to.

I doubt it makes much sense to see Popper as crypto-cybernetic        
nor does there seem to be any substantive connection between          
Popper's notion of an "open society" and current notions of "open     
technology/open media", except in one aspect which I will come back   
to.                                                                   

In "Open Society and its Enemies" Popper really makes a very simple
point. For him, the central question of political theory is not the
one concerning the ideal form of government nor the one concerning
the best leader. Both are essentially unanswerable questions (we
cannot know what or who is best, for a variety of reasons). Trying
to answer such questions leads to totalitarianism since once you
(claim to) have found the ideal form of governance all critique can be
suppressed because it can, by definition, make things only worse. The
overwhelming part of the book is spent attacking what he sees as the
forefathers of totalitarianism (Plato, Hegel, Marx) because each of
them proposed an ideal government.

For Popper the central question of political theory is a negative     
one: How to get rid of a bad government. And this, and this reason    
alone, is why he favours democracy because it has an inbuilt          
mechanism to get rid of a bad government. You simply elect another    
one. Beyond that, Popper was not particularly political a thinker and 
he was happy to praised by the left and right a like.                 

Popper's main point was an epistemological one. We cannot have certain
knowledge about the truth. We have to formulate knowledge claims
so that they can be falsified and thus corrected. The same, in a
nutshell, is his idea of an open society: one that has mechanisms to
foster and make use of substantive criticism.

Now, the only connection I see between Popper and open technology is
in the way most free software projects handle bugs. Starting from the
assumption that all software is buggy, developers have created ways
to turn bugs into a productive element by publishing them actively,
rather than a destructive element that needs to be hidden and ignored
as much as possible.

Yet, most web2.0 projects are closed in Popper's sense of openness.   
Hidden behind some amorphous notion of community (a new kind of       
fundamentalism, really) much of the governance structure is actually  
opaque, unaccountable, and without any mechanism to substantively     
question and change its workings. That does not mean that they cannot 
change, but it means there is systemic way to influencing this change 
and make it accountable. I would not like to have your political      
systems to function like Wikipedia.                                   

Thus, I don't think a fitting critique to see these "open media" as   
continuation of the liberal projects because they aren't (I kinda     
would prefer if they were). Rather, they seem to exemplify a new      
corporatism where the group (be it a community or a corporation) is   
always right and very steep hierarchies are masked behind a shallow   
egalitarianism.                                                       


Felix








--- http://felix.openflows.com ----------------------------- out now:
*|Mediale Kunst/Media Arts Zurich.13 Positions.Scheidegger&Spiess2008
*|Manuel Castells and the Theory of the Network Society. Polity, 2006 
*|Open Cultures and the Nature of Networks. Ed. Futura/Revolver, 2005 






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