Let the record show that at least I tried to protest this coming groupist totalitarianism online and in our real world.
I've been jumping up and down and grabbing people's lapels for years about all this virtual stuff because it always seemed to me that with relative lightning speed, virtuality and connectivity would take off, become more influential and even ubiquitous -- and then actually affect our real world -- and if we didn't try to fix it in its "still virtual" stage, we'd get stuck with a really bad bargain, or worse, truly lose our freedoms. But it never occurred to me in my worst nightmare back before 9/11 that a metaversal idealogue would actually have the ear of the President of the United States, and would actually have a national pulpit for justifying the destruction of democracy with "new tools" that were supposed to "improve it". I figured an extremist like Beth Noveck (or Clay Shirky) would stay in their relative academic obscurity, perhaps infecting the odd graduate student's mind, but not invading the entire nation's meme stream.
Thinking about all this, I honestly alternate between breaking out into a sweat and getting chills. I realize probably none of my readers can understand what I'm even talking about because they can't see all the layers, but what it's ultimately about is this: the rights and dignity of the individual, versus the group, and whether we will move into this next century with capitalism or communism, or, in the name of "progress and peaceful co-existence," some awful convergence of the two with the worst aspects of each.
Looking at Beth Noveck's December 2008 piece, I have only more cause for alarm and even despair -- despair because the packaging is so slick, the Digital Maoism so palatable, that many will enthusiastically bite in -- and bite in deep. It sickens me. You have only to see the well-funded Personal Democracy gang fan it and their wish for the flames to spread in Washington to actively fear for the future -- and look at the lingo, replete with "collaborative governance" and "knowledge networks" right out of the Connectivism catechisms!
The experts. Margaret Bourke White for Time.
Beth, not surprisingly, begins by quoting the ardent Stalinist George Bernard Shaw: "All professions are conspiracies against the laity," and nowhere is this more the case than in a democracy."
Well, but wait just a minute. I'm all for celebrating the amateur, empowering people who aren't credentialed (I'm one of them!), having blogs and tools and all that stuff. But...why does this involve *destroying* a profession, like, oh, doctor or lawyer? After all, those people have spent years studying and lashing themselves to the discipline of writing essays and exams and passing orals -- this isn't trivial! Beth Noveck herself has sought and won these credentials to get herself to the pulpit she know has. Here she is *one of the professional elite herself* (!) and yet she is trashing this elite to gain street cred with the online "movement". Ugh. She believes that government with the use of a professional elite is somehow unauthentic and out of touch, giving the Here Comes Everybody Cult of the Amateur Wisdom of Crowds out there, and we should just rewire everything to firehose in the sages of Internet to decide our national problems.
Noveck, very much like Shirky, makes her case by exaggerating and misstating the problem. Here she
sounds like a veritable grid Linden:
"Only institutionalized and governmental professionals possess the expertise, resources, discipline, and time to make public-policy decisions. And citizen participation is hard to organize and administer, and even harder to scale. It is one thing for 10 bureaucrats to debate a policy and come to an informed consensus; try getting the same result with 10,000 people–or 10 million."
But that's all arrant bullshit, as anyone who has actually ever worked on any matter of public policy knows full well. Experts aren't in some detached plastic boxes -- you can call them up or write them once you acquire some expertise yourself. Citizens organize themselves all the time in NGOs or less formal movements and visit their congressmen, write letters, publish op-eds, go on demonstrations, and have an impact. And they succeed without having to tear down the institutions they are lobbying -- a matter than neither Shirky nor Novek ever come clean about in their writings, because their implication is clear: old institutions have to go, or have already gone because groups have "already taken power."
Groups of what? Well, um, Wikipedia, for example, says Beth -- surprise, surprise!. As I explained in my piece on the evils of Wikipedia, there isn't any millions running Wikipedia, or even thousands -- it's a tiny handful of, well, self-appointed um...experts. They aren't the kind of experts that the Encyclopedia Britannica may have on an editorial board of credentialed professionals, however. The Wikipedia experts might be some nerd in New Jersey. No matter -- let's celebrate them uber alles, shall we? Every cook can run the state! Beth believes the "rules" of Wikipedia -- which are hidebound tribal diktats worthy of the culture of the Politburo - are producing "high-quality" results. But they aren't, as anyone who knows anything about a given subject can tell you, or as anyone merely reading all the controversial entries (like Hamas) could admit if they are honest. (BTW, I'm alarmed to learn that the Apache Webserver "runs two-thirds of the websites in the world" -- Apache being the opensource cool thing that the opensourceniks always rave about as being responsible for the entire Internet. It's a scary thought, of course, that a bunch of coders and their little friends have every website by the balls in this fashion).
How to judge quality, then, when you are dealing with anonymous nerds from New Jersey! Ah, I know!
Let's have a "self-reinforcing reputation system!". You know, the kind like they used to have in Second Life, that is gamed and spammed and spited -- and which, of course, means nothing. As I told Dusan when he was getting all treacly about reputation and identity, um, like...I'm going to care what a bunch of anonymous fucktards think of me in a game?! I mean, isn't that one of the very strong reasons you get an anonymous avatar in the first place, to protect your real self from the insolent and cruel Internet?
"Political philosophers from Aristotle to Rousseau to Rawls have suggested that when groups engage
in the public exchange of reason, they produce better ideas," gushes Beth -- and hey, what a range! And hey, what an untruth! Aristotle?! On groups? Where?
Then come a bunch of "use cases". Omidyar Network asking the public to help participant in awarding grants. Of course, that's not "the public," that's just an ingroup of people reached to take an interest in these "progressive" causes". The ebay guy isn't *really* going to open up his wallet to the vastness of the world, where, oh, Joe the Plumber might tell him to give his money to something not politically-correct. Collective writing of an article? Is Beth actually *daft*? Does she collectively write *her* articles and books?! Please. Writing an article is hard work. You don't create obstacles for yourself and others by turning it into a goddamn hootenanny. The illusion that you can do this is very tempting -- but stupid.
Here's the problem in a nutshell, if you don't have time to read anything else:
"In each case, we are beginning to see how, if designed with clear, simple tasks to that help create more open and collaborative yet organized practices, the computer screen can shift power from professional sources of authoritative knowledge to new kinds of knowledge networks. Speaking truth to power is easiest to do–and more accurate–when spoken not as an individual, but as a group. This has particular application to policymaking: Non-governmental participants have something more to offer than voting once a year–namely, good information. In much the same way that we devise legal procedures to ensure fairness in the courtroom or open deliberation in Congress, we can design technology–and the legal and policy framework to support it–that elicits specific, structured, and manageable input, not from individuals, but from collaborative groups. If we can harness the enthusiasm and knowledge of "netizens" to the legal and political processes generally reserved for citizens, we can produce government decision-making that is both more expert and, at the same time, more democratic. "
Ok, WAIT. stop right there. "Designed with clear, simple tasks." See where this is going? This fabulously open creative group thing on the Internet (including with virtual worlds and new social media) is all fabulously accessible and free except...somebody...some coders...a few people...have to set up clear and simple tasks. Like, you know, get rid of "no" votes. "No" votes, such as on the JIRA, or on many forums, are confusing and "negative". Better just to double plus yes everything! And why have comments open? It just leads to spam or hate like on YouTube. Why not just have a poll? Why not just have a few "editors' choices" and bury the rest under the fold? You know, create an *environment*.
As for speaking truth to power --seldom has this ever been done, in any age, in any country, in my observation, by anything *but* an individual. Isn't our dear president Obama an individual?! It isn't just the type of figure we know such as Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. or Andrei Sakharov -- it's the many other "walk-ons" and bit players in their lives and surrounding them who make all kinds of sacrifices and decisions of selflnessness that never get noticed and which are just as brave and important as the heroes -- and certainly more important than faceless, merged, and unaccountable groups. It's ultimately the individual and his conscience that does this speaking, not the group, hiding behind each other with bravado. Sure, NGOs have good information. But that isn't meant to be a substitute to Congressional committee expertise -- where, BTW, especialy *now*, you have people that may have left an NGO to come into political office! Hello!
Oh, "we" can design technical -- and the legal and policy framework to support it -- can we? But who says then that it has to get "specific, structured, and manageable input, not from individuals but from collaborative groups." What is this Red Wheel, that has to crush the individual, and over-celebrate the group? Am I supposed to be told, if I raise my hand and complain about unfair housing practices or police brutality that I better meld into a collaborative group, or my concern doesn't count? A group that just has to accept the tools as they are from Ms. Noveck and her comrades?
What does Beth Noveck fear so much in the individual? Especially the expert individual who has been chosen by a person *elected* to power? Does that so strike against her leftist techno-elite power base that she has to declare war on it?!
Noveck goes on to talk at length about peer-review panels deciding patents. This, like Lessig's obsessions that led to Creative Commons, is basically a long-winded and long-winding path to get to a basic goal: undermining the concept of private property in order to privilege collectivized property. That's all. Let's not sugar-coat it.
Suddenly, this evil professional commission that decides something like patents is preventing the public from talking -- it "has no voice in the process" claims Noveck. Except... it does. When it elects officials, who make commissions, and hire experts...who can take input from the public, including with newfangled new media stuff, even. Imagine!
Instead, Beth wants "free agent nation" (sigh) to tackle the problems of the nation -- these are "graduate students, independent scientists, avid hobbyists, retired executives, and other consultants" -- by which she means "people that 'thought leaders like myself can easily control through social media where we dominate." And that's seriously how it's done -- legions of enthusiastic groupies absolutely hysterically fanning these folks in all their blogs and Tweets, which they wave over like a field of wheat, getting it to bend. It's sickening to watch.
Peer review can be a mixed bag, but of course, it's the gold standard for publishing and academia. If I'm expecting a new drug to be tested, or expecting a scientific article to be checked for a magazine, I'd rather have a peer-reviewed double-bind experiment with some kind of rigorous criteria and rules of management than "free agent nation" sending me a Tweet, whatever its merits.
And as you read more and more of Noveck, you reflect upon this: that she can't make her case for Group Nation without trashing the individual, and trashing existing institutions. It's always all or nothing. Everything has to make way for the betterness of the groupies -- or else!
In the end, she gives a mere nod to a more moderate and less destructive approach -- but that's because she's already done all the damage she needs to do both to the individual and the state --
"By being explicitly experimental with new forms of digital institution-building, we have an opportunity to increase the legitimacy of governmental decisions. The tools–increasingly cheap, sometimes free–will not replace the professionals. Technology will not, by itself, make complex regulatory problems any more tractable, or eliminate partisan disputes about values. What this next generation of civic software can do, however, is introduce better information by enabling the expert public to contribute targeted information. In doing so, it can make possible practices of governance that are, at once, more expert and more democratic."
But wait. We just heard that government-made panels are crap, and a gaggle of students and housewives and retired people have to take over. We just heard that while the tools may be cheap, they need to be set up by coders with simple exercises that people can easily use. We just heard that in fact grants can be given, news stories written, and patents resolved in record time all with groups -- groups that you *have* to be in, because individuals need not apply and should not be heard from. We've just heard that the information is "better" merely because...it's better because Beth says so, and it comes from a hallowed group. And we've just heard that democracy with its hired professional expets is moribund, and new Internet configurations will simply go around them and have "already taken power" as Beth says in her "First Monday" article. That's why this concilatiory paragraph pasted on the end of her revolutionary theses is merely a distraction, something she can point to when criticized for her trashing of the individual and the state's institutions elected by individuals.
I could go on and on about this, but I know I hardly have any company -- and frankly, that makes me want to despair and give up blogging. And with this despair, I IM'd Joel Savard, who now works with Dusan Writer, who has now taken over Metanomics. I didn't get too far -- he was busy, and made what I felt was a tactless comment about chairing a meeting and being unable to read something of "this length" when I sent him links to Noveck and my actually rather brief post to Dusan's wall o' text (ever notice how Dusan can get away with writing Tower Posts but I never can without be beaten to a pulp!)
When I complained about Noveck, Joel's response was to counterthrust, what, you oppose having controversial speakers on Metanomics, Prokofy? -- as if to say, "Come on, Prokofy, we just had YOU on Metanomics, and YOU are controversial and disliked by many, so you're going to now complain about somebody ELSE that YOU find controversial?"
Well -- fuck that shit, is all I can say to *that*. Like I was on the show? Hell, no! I was put in a BOX -- a BOX after the main show, and not given top billing as a controversial speaker, obviously. I was put into a box to talk for 3 minutes on a topic that was essentially dictated ahead of time and without any kind of dialogue with anyone else. Many would jump at the chance to have an unpaid advertorial of this type -- but I actually almost refused to go (especially when I read the agreement one has to sign, which involves turning over the images of your logo and avatar in perpetuity to Metanomics -- without restrictions). I almost refused to go because I felt: a) I'm being put in a box, like some odd specimen, and therefore trivialized, and made lower than the others on the podium b) no one debates me and I don't get to counter their debates; c) Metanomics can dine out and look progressive and tolerant by having "even Prokofy" on the show, but no one ever has to talk to me because I'm in a box; d) I will most certainly be harassed and heckled brutally, and the Metanomics staff will not lift a finger to do anything about it -- just like the last two times I was on the show.
And that was exactly what happened. My crazy neighbour in Slosser, Bjorn Loon, a loon who I dealt with repeatedly when she kept peppering my land with her prims in a funny notion that her builds were welcome, and with whom I had no end of inworld disputes and run-ins, was the LAST person I would have figured would be hired to run Metanomics. And sure enough, when Woodbury goon in the chatbridge began screeching "Oh, if Prokofy says PENIS I will log off and never come back" blah blah blah -- Loon did nothing -- not even making a public reprimand, which she could have easily done to establish the tone. She even made her inaction appear as altruistic by saying that her choice was either shut off the chatbridge entirely, and lose the chat from other sims, or let the chat and the obscenity through.
But wait a minute. Either the chat coming from other sims is something that those events partners can control (and therefore whoever was running the sim should have gotten the sharp order, if they didn't figure it out themselves, to eject the PENIS disruptor) OR they came in from a chat bridge hooked up to the web, where...they had to sign up with their SL avatar name. Um, right? They *did* have to sign up with their SL avatar name? Sign up, like I'm always told *I* have sign up if I want to post on the fucking Metanomics page? Well?
So, *shame on those men who run Metanomics* and their female factotums -- that they'd allow an asshole to heckle me shouting PENIS when I was speaking. SHAME.
The conversation I had with Joel really wasn't pleasant, but of coures, I sympathize with someone being busy and then having someone else come at them from left field with an obscure philosophical point. The problem is Metanomics itself, though, not its new owners. I (and I'm not alone) feel it has gone off the rails. In part, it's this endless star-fucking, chasing after celebrities in order to then be the cool kids and get noticed -- hence chasing after an Obama Transition Team member, Noveck, even though she really has nothing to do with virtual economies or virtual worlds whatsoever.
In part it's the chat bridge stuff -- they've simply got too much chat now, and now that all partner sims can pipe their chat into where the famous guests are, the backchatters can't resist showing off more, and posting inanities, and even obscenities to gain attention in the flowing stew.
Backchat works better when the objects of the backchat are in the room with you, so to speak -- the more hundreds you add to this, the more it turns into a giant chatroom of the sort we used to see with hundreds -- thousands -- rolling on the Sims webpage.
And the shows are now so heavily overproduced, that the spark begins to go out. The staff is busy cluttering up the text deliberately with every link they can possibly think to link, as if we have fallen headfirst into a delicio.us pit. It's tedious. And the set up of avatars now,with their Imagineering (snort) is so time-consuming, tedious, and intrusive, that it's a wonder they even get guests. Why are we replicating static and stupid TV studios with talking heads sitting in chairs? We can't follow an avatar moving around a scene? That avatar can't do other things, whether dance or drive a vehicle or garden?
But spam and over-production aside, the real issue is this: can any of these brains now behind Metanomics do anything to get the usually goofily enthusing Beyers Sellers to ask anything pointed of Noveck?
I'm debating if I myself should try to arrive and try to backchat and pose the one question that *might* get in the mix. But to do so is to legitimize the whole sordid thing.