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Re: <nettime> Zittrain's Foundational Myth of the Open Internet
Felix Stalder on Fri, 17 Oct 2008 10:31:34 +0200 (CEST)

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

On Thursday, 16. October 2008, Brian Holmes wrote:
> Yes, to my mind, it was the intellectual atmosphere of a period. But
> that period was very much infused with the economic and scientific
> liberalism. It is no accident that Popper's book "The Open Society and
> its Enemies" was published in 1945!

Of course, it's not an accident. Popper saw the book as his personal
"war effort" (though it was published only after the war was
over). And, yes, it's about defending a liberal tradition against
totalitarianism, but beyond that I cannot see any connection to
cybernetics. Certainly, there are no biographical ones. He was in New
Zealand, pretty much isolated, and, for all I know, never met any of
the people involved in early cybernetics nor referred to their ideas,
at least at the time. He was not interested in governance questions
and he was not a technocrat. Popper's approach was truly old-fashioned
-- in the sense that he wanted to convince, to crush his opponents by
virtue of what he saw his superior intellect. Popper solved many of
the central questions of the 19th century (i.e. what is science? What
is a liberal democracy?).

Here lies -- if I understand Brian correctly -- the biggest           
"innovation" that cybernetics brought to the theory of governance     
and the reason why it turned out to be so extremely popular among     
practitioners. It seemed to offer a short-cut. Instead of going       
through the trouble of having to convince people of the merits of     
your politics, one would simply implement a system of "incentives"    
and let people "choose freely" how to react to those incentives.      
There was no need to reach agreement on anything. Nobody would        
be "forced" to follow any kind of party line, but the incentive       
structure (a.k.a. feedback mechanisms) where constructed in a way     
that made sure that the "rational" options where pretty constrained.  

That system allowed the political discourse to deteriorate completely,
because instead of having to talk about substantive policy issues
(which were outsourced into each reacting individually to seemingly
objective incentives) one could focus on emotionally charged issues
which had no real consequences for the accumulation of capital (and
other central concerns of the economic-political system). The primary
example -- of course -- is the politicization of abortion.

My main point -- which really is a side point to this discussion -- is
that one should not see this as the a logical or direct consequence
of liberalism and lump the entire liberal tradition into that. The
shift from "arguing" to "steering" as a mode of politics is too far
reaching for that -- even if it probably has destroyed that tradition,
by falsely claiming its mantle, beyond repair. Maybe it's a pity that
the 18th century is over. But, certainly, it's a fact.


--- 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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