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Re: <nettime> Zittrain's Foundational Myth of the Open Internet
Michael H Goldhaber on Sat, 18 Oct 2008 11:15:47 +0200 (CEST)

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


While I bow to your greater knowledge of the history of cybernetics, I
can't agree with what you seem to be suggesting about its effects in

First of all, the political focus on emotionally charged issues (such
as transubstantiation, slavery, anti-semitism, prohibition) goes back
much earlier than cybernetics or control theory. Second, despite the
theoretical hope to "incentivize" various actions or stances, it has
often not panned out in reality, often because people either find ways
ot use the incentives for ends considerably in contradiction to what
was intended, or because the incentives themselves become political
issues. For instance, in order to induce men to work, American welfare
laws excluded families with both a father and a mother present, but
that just led to more children born out of wedlock. Current political
efforts to incentivize the choice of fuel efficient cars by imposing
a higher gasoline tax have met with very stiff resistance against any
such tax. Such examples could easily be multipllied.

As for abortion, it only became an issue when it was finally
legalized. If I may mention anything as mundane as the New Yorker, it
recently crreid an article by Ryan Lizza made the point that abortion,
etc., became an issue for many working class voters only when the
Democratic Party stopped worrying about them or trying to improve
their lives. That is an odd sort of incentivization.


On Oct 17, 2008, at 1:27 AM, Felix Stalder wrote:

> 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.

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