ThoughtStorms Wiki

Over on BecomingConservative BillSeitz asks :

Does BillSeitz:VirginiaPostrel have anything to offer to you? – BillSeitz

I dunno, where would she put me? :-) – PhilJones

Maybe as a TechnoCrat / StasIst (like AlGore)? "Progress as managed by people who know best"? –BillSeitz

Ouch! That hurt. But this is a good question :-)

Am I Postrelian Stasist? I'm kind of disturbed by the accusation. As I point out in LeftAndRightAndScale, I believe very strongly in decentralized, free solutions for organizing networks and systems. I'm certainly not an intuitive technocrat. (Ask my ex-colleagues about me general rants against top-down planning ;-)

I regard myself as progressive which in one sense means I'm in favour of "change for the better" but not "change for the worse". But this is the kind of meaningless banality that everyone can say they're in favour of (see also EinsteinPrinciples) And is also pretty much cover for any conservative position, however regressive.

So let's try to enrich this position. LeftAndRightAndScale is a good start : change is good, but when dealing with the real world we need to respect and protect the welfare of individual persons. And change which harms people is to be rejected.

But that isn't quite right either. What I really suspect is that Postrel's is a FalseDichotomy between those favouring change and those trying to resist it. It's not a question of resisting change, because that isn't an option. Change will happen anyway. To paraphrase Marx : the point is to guide it in the right direction. The present is no great shakes. Surely we can do better than this.

I believe that that's a pretty future oriented, optimistic attitude to take. (Contra to Oli's and the perenial right-wing accusation of the left as pessimistic). The only thing I think it isn't, is a naive faith in a particular mechanism : the idealized FreeMarket, to steer us to the best future available.)

But now I see that this looks like I'm accepting the technocrat position. If I think we can guide technology towards "better" ends, why isn't this mere technocracy?

Well, in my conception, the "guidance" is still coming from pretty decentralized, and democratic source. It's definitely NOT about voting for the correct mainstream centre-left party who "know" how to organize technology for the better.

It's a belief that guidance emerges from a wide variety of individual initiatives and experiments : hackers who write FreeSoftware, anarchist communes, local communities who create their own money, activists who create their own media, piqueteros and SquatterMovements, land reform groups, anti-war protesters, women's consciousness-raising groups etc. This is a wide diversity of innitiative and desire to shape and create a new future. I would suggest that the range of different interests means that this larger DecentralizedLeft actually have a wider diversity of experimentation than a group of entrepreneurs who are only motivated by profit. (I'm not, actually against entrepreneurs who are motivated by profit. I think they are an essential part of a healthy economy too. They just aren't the beginning and end of one.)

How does this differ from what Postrel is saying? I haven't read Postrel yet, so she may have already considered this position and have arguments against it. (Ok, maybe I need to go read : My My) hunch is that she's going to try to sneak the idea that "diversity = market" past us. In fact the monolithic, unified market / single currency might be the last modernist totalizing narrative :-)


I've only read a bit myself. I've noticed that you talk a lot about voluntary bottom-up approaches, but many of your specific recommendations (laws about advertising in schools, limits to athletic sponsorship, etc.) are top-down legalistic. –BillSeitz

Well, maybe start with my response to Oli : MoreThanJustTinkering. But while I don't see government solutions as the most important or useful place to intervene, I'm not allergic to them on principle. These suggestions were hardly all encompassing controls or attempts by technocrats to do BigUpFrontDesign for society. They're definitely piecemeal experimental interventions using legislation, aimed to ameliorate one observable AntiPattern in society. So I guess the question is whether you think any government attempt to shape society is bad? And if so, what are the reasons for this? Is it that government is universaly incompetent? That government has zero legitimacy to guide society? Or something else?


See also :

  • OnWhiggery (because dynamism seems very like whiggery)