I've just read something profoundly horrifying, something that made my hair stand on end, a chill run up my spine, and a sense of deep dismay whallop my solar plexus.
In any age, if words like "democracy" or "individual" or "freedom" are twisted and stood on their ear, you do feel a sense of horror.
I first saw a reference to Beth Noveck's ideology in SL Future Salon, run by the geeky-charismatic SNOOPYBrown Zamboni. Now the full work is out, and just racing through it, I can see I'll need to spend at least the next 90 days refuting every jot and tittle of it.
It's really appalling. It posits a Brave New World in which the individual will be thrown out (along with the state) to celebrate "the group". "The group" is a reified cybernetic kewl thing, that isn't a clique or a gang or a troika or a lynch mob (although Beth Noveck never explains how all those group things are avoided), but something wonderful and new and revolutionary and democratic. The new democracy is going to be made up of groups. This is supposed to be de Toqueville on speed on the Internet, but it just turns out to be no different than a lot of close-minded little cliques like you had in sixth grade, passing around the cyber equivalent of slambooks.
It's as if all the work of the 1980s-1990s (you have to wonder if she read any of it) about civil society and citizens' groups, whether by Vaclav Havel or E.P. Thompson or Adam Hoschild or anybody anywhere was meaningless. These groups pitted themselves against authoritarian or totalitarian states and succeeded to the extent to which they fought for the rights and liberties of the individual, of whom they were extremely protective.
The new cyber groups of Beth Noveck's metaverse are sinewy little snobbish things that prevail over individuals and "bad groups" and deliberate and even pronounce judgements (troikas) in "citizen juries". They're better than Congress because they don't contain "extremes".
She celebrates a notion of "collective action" that seems completely devoid of any notion of how celebration of collectives have been the source of great evil ideologies in the the 20th century, Nazism and Communism. It's that lack of awareness, more than anything, that prompts me to think this is merely the same thing dressed up in cyber clothing.
The piece is chock-full of ready-to-pull-out quotes that are supposed to buzz all over the Internet and serve as mind-memes:
It is no longer an issue of whether we ought to give power to groups; they are taking it.
Um, no, over my dead body. That cannot tolerate dissent, that group-think under the guise of "collaboration," that force out what doesn't fit, that "mutes" and "bans" and "declares a griefing troll". Bleh, this is AWFUL!
If we take seriously the power of groups and the impact of technology on collective action, we ought to think about what it means to give them body as well as soul — to “incorporate” them.
Real life has plenty of means to "incorporate" groups either as corporations or non-profits or merely just neighbourhood civic committees. These groups all have in common a notion of a rule of law over and above them, not merely self-celebration of their own groupness. They all have charters they can answer to. Any random assortment of people on the Internet gets to be a group and take power? Huh? On what authority? And how do we distinguish this from the disease of corporativist fascism or collectivist communism with all their hideous attributes?
Contrary to the expectations of economists, people do cooperate online. They want to be groups.
Oh? Where? Of course, in Second Life, we know that most of the big businesses aren't groups but individuals -- possibly couples. This is just belied by our real experience. But you wonder if this kind of inworld field work is ever going to trouble an ideology-cranker like this.
Or check out this horror:
Avatars are “public” characters, personalities designed to function in a public and social capacity. Avatars think and act as members of a community, rather than as private individuals. Having to construct an avatar in a virtual world not only allows me to see myself but it demands that I design a personage for interaction with others
HELL no. HELL NO! My avatar isn't automatically forced into your group and your community -- it's an independent entity with all its individuality intact -- and it shall remain so. Indeed, this hideous notion of groups uber alles is going to become one of the chief brakes on the struggle for individual avatar rights in line with the struggle for civil rights and liberties in RL. It gives carte blanche to authoritarian game companies and "platform providers" to skip over concerns of individual rights and the sacredness of the individual, and turn over suppression of dissent, ironing out of non-conformities, and enforcement of group-think -- groups which they of course subtly control, by being in them.
I don't HAVE to "design a personage for interaction with others" any more than in RL, my construct of myself is something subsumed in "the group" or "the community". What utter arrant horseshit this is! What about the existing concepts of "preparing a face to meet the faces"?
Many avatars pursue decidedly private lives, alone or with a special someone or a small group of friends -- as individuals. This notion that they are hard-wired to be public entities "always available" and always "conditioned" by the group is just -- a horror!
Here's one of those seemingly benign and nourishing sort of thoughts that in fact cloaks multitudes of horror:
Through visual diagrams and other tools, too, a group can actually portray its shared opinions. If we have a group of 20 people, we can each put a push–pin on a map to indicate a point of view. We might do this on a chart in a room but we can now also place a digital pin in virtual space. The Maptastic project lets users collaboratively add pushpins to a map to show the location of important places in a city. These might be favorite restaurants or they might be sites in need of community clean–up .
One of the great horrors I've experienced lately in Thinkers' meetings is the pushing at people by one BDSM practioner (why am I not surprised) of something called a "mindmap". This "mindmap" is of course one of those things whose chief purpose is to stop original independent thought, and subsume it to the reified "group" -- which is of course, more often than not, is just the people underneath one strong personality that pushes the group around. Under the guise of "collaboration," the "group" is marched through a set of rigid lines and boxes and Power Point sort of stuff, with an underlying, controlling substrate, that is supposed to be all about "collaboration". Everything has to be constantly "harmonized". The "visualization" of "group problems" is of course totally in the hands of those tekkies who can program the visuals and therefore program people's "mindmaps". This is how they'll do it. Did you ever wonder how they'd get away with it? This is how.
Note to readers: Democracy Island is CLOSED. Um, yeah. That's what they mean by Democracy. A closed private island.
There's no acknowledgement of the "minority vote" or "the dissenting voice" or "the 10 minus 1". It's all just "the group" and its sacred cow, "consensus".
Imagine this stuff replicating.
I hope some kindred souls out there can be found to join me in trying to give this really awful stuff a really good run for its money before they put the pillow over our heads to smother us.