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Re: <nettime> Evgeny Morozov and the Perils of "Highbrow Journalism".
t byfield on Mon, 20 Oct 2014 18:22:55 +0200 (CEST)


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Re: <nettime> Evgeny Morozov and the Perils of "Highbrow Journalism".


John (H), I'm not sure how it helps anyone to say that the declining editorial quality of a posh magazine is inexorably linked in some thermodynamicky way with the ultimate fate of the universe. If it is, then so is everything else, which doesn't really lead us anywhere but a metaphysical wormhole, does it? So leave us a little bit of indeterminate wiggle room, however transient or delusional. We'll waste the fleeting moments it gives us wondering why universal fate would choose -- out of the entire history of the entire universe -- these few years on this tiny planet to reveal such catastrophic changes.

And please don't use nettime as a platform for this "when the shit hits the fan" stuff. I know you aren't one of those virulent rightist preppers and that your 'poetess/poet' is preferable to their BOBs and BOLs and BOVs and YOYOs; but that's just a parochial difference. The argument you're making is awfully close to theirs, and their 'argument' is a transparent allegory for postwar white American privilege, both real and imagined. For a lot of people around the world (including in the US), the "shit's been hitting the fan" for decades or even centuries -- which was the basis for American privilege.

But there is a silver lining to bringing up that nonsense in the context of a thread about the third-order politics of second-order cybernetics. Beer embodied the worst tendencies of that line of thought, and his efforts to apply it to governance were a well-deserved disaster. I've heard it suggested that the _New Yorker_ article is probably a draft chapter for Morozov's dissertation. I hope so, because I'd like to see a readable dissertation -- a 'book' -- that gives everything Beer stood for a thorough drubbing. Medina's book is excellent. But her commitment to academic formalism prevented her from openly mocking Beer, even if she wanted to.

Like I said, Morozov should have credited Medina much more clearly. But I think one of his real offenses was to do what academics *should* do: connect their work to clear, public, political stances. It's no accident that he attacked the plain-as-day 'cybernetic' manifestation of a star chamber. And I don't think it's an accident that the image one of his main antagonists glommed onto to attack him was a 'cabal.' The facts of the close reading buried in that parody may be accurate; but when you strip away all the accounting about who exactly said what exactly (and time will strip them away), the lasting impression was a hollowing-out of the idea of a cabal. That's unfortunate, because the idea of a cabal accurately describes a key to what ails us now. From _Foreign Policy_:

When he was running the Army's Intelligence and Security Command, Alexander brought many of his future allies down to Fort Belvoir for a tour of his base of operations, a facility known as the Information Dominance Center. It had been designed by a Hollywood set designer to mimic the bridge of the starship Enterprise from Star Trek, complete with chrome panels, computer stations, a huge TV monitor on the forward wall, and doors that made a "whoosh" sound when they slid open and closed. Lawmakers and other important officials took turns sitting in a leather "captain's chair" in the center of the room and watched as Alexander, a lover of science-fiction movies, showed off his data tools on the big screen.

<http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/09/08/the_cowboy_of_the_nsa_keith_alexander?page=full>

Alexander's was only the most luxurious realization of a generic model that's become ubiquitous across every sector. High-end versions take material, architectural form; low-end versions are called things like "dashboard" and "control panel," and are available on every platform.

Why is the work of scholars like those who make up SIGCIS interesting? Because it's relevant -- or at least it could be, if they weren't so busy playing Borgesian metaphysical games.

Cheers,
T[ed, not Tim BTW]


On 20 Oct 2014, at 0:11, John Hopkins wrote:

It takes time and energy to impose order on a system. Clearly
many many segments of the 'developed world' are manifesting the
inevitable decrease in the energy available to maintain their own
order.

Or, the perceived decline in fact-checking could rather be
the result of a continued ascendance of the formal rituals of
accountancy which t bytfield mentioned, combined with a networked
innundation of "facts."

Yes, definitely -- fact-checking / accountancy are both forms of
feedback for the various expressions and projections of power that
are made within a techno-social system -- for the subjective purposes
of 'optimization'. And when the level of feedback rises to a certain
level, the system moves into dysfunction and ultimate collapse --
unless it is able to find and tap into additional energy resources
(hire more fact-checkers, obviously, is a solution at one level,
but this requires a bigger cash flow, etc, etc). And, as Tim and
others pointed out, in early 20th century academic writing references,
footnotes, and other direct, detailed linkages to other knowledge-work
was generally sparse compared to the situation now. Attention was
paid to original thinking, and perhaps the 'pressure to succeed' was
less onerous (fewer people on the planet, and the wider social system
had ascendant and seemingly unlimited energy resources). In a highly
competitive system (now), where there is a surplus of some resources
(bodies w/ PhDs), the system can project ever finer feedback controls
over participants making them jump through ever-smaller hoops; while
at the same time, resource competition in the global sense has gotten
ever more cutthroat. There are barbarians, terrorists, drug users,
Ebola, and general chaos 'out there' -- I'll do anything to be a
functionary in the system

"Here's my article, Sir." "What about the title, is *that* a fact?,
you'd better f*&kin' be sure!" (do-loop repeat at each word in
5000-character article).

When the shit hits the fan, no one will care how long your
bibliography is, but rather, *can you think creatively enough
to survive?* Until the flying excrement reaches a threshold
value, folks' life-energies will be ever more enthralled by the
presently-operational system.

Perhaps in the end, it is the poetess/poet that is the most optimal
digester-of-language, the rest are constipated on the bland gruel of
the academy *and* socially-mediated life...


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