IEET > Vision > Former > Technoprogressivism
Does Technology Really Trump Left vs. Right?
Dale Carrico   Jul 17, 2006   Amor Mundi  

A friend and very interesting interlocutor of mine registered the impression earlier this afternoon that I appear to think technoprogressive folks are closer politically and culturally to what he called “environmental primitivists” than to “tech-positive libertarians.”  I am assuming this means folks like John Zerzan on the one hand and Tim May on the other.  Anyway, my friend wondered, “As time passes, and debates get hotter, can we imagine how the opposite might become true?”

The quick answer is simply to say that I personally feel no closer to luddite Deep Ecologists than to libertopian technophiles. Both perspectives seem to me wrongheaded for multiple, but mostly different, reasons.  But I think it is more important to notice that the question has been framed here in a way that virtually ensures any answer that follows will be misleading.

The key issue for me is not whether one’s politics are “tech-positive” or “tech-negative.”  “Technology” has no interesting political existence at that level of generality.  What is wanted are technodevelopmental outcomes that are democratizing, consensual, sustainable, emancipatory, and fair.  What is resisted are technodevelopmental outcomes that consolidate elites, are nonconsensual, unsustainable, exploitative, and unfair.  The politics are prior to the toypile.

Although this perspective does require that one concede the principle, I suppose, that technology can be positive so long as we educate, agitate, and organize to facilitate these outcomes, that is actually not a whole lot to hang one’s hat on as far as “doctrine’s” go. But all the actual programmatic details will derive from the commitment to democracy, peace, and fairness, rather than to some diffuse commitment to “technology.”

As far as neoliberals, neoconservatives, and free marketeers go—well, no doubt these folks will regularly feel a thrill of excitement about some particular emerging technology or other, if only because they think there is money to be made in it or because they think theose elites with whom will identify will be especially empowered by making recourse to these technologies.  I’ll admit that it is hard for me to see why I should call them allies for that, particularly, though you can be sure I will be as happy to accept their votes when technoprogressive campaigns require them as I will be to resist and regulate conservative abuses of technologies when technoprogressive campaigns require that instead.

Don’t get me wrong.  There is unquestionably something to be said about how left and right are not historically stable or predictable in the vicissitudes of their position-profiles.  TR’s Republican Party is not Bush II’s.  And it also appears to be true that biotechnologies are a socioculturally destabilizing development that contemporary political formations have not accommodated in any kind of uniform or final way, especially at the level of partisan politics.  James Hughes’ writing on this topic is still some of the best on offer.

But I have to admit that I think a left versus right distinction of democratic versus anti-democratic or establishment politics provides a considerably better guide to concrete political reality than one would glean from the many technophile writings one encounters claiming to be “beyond” left and right.

Given the recent strong historical association of technophilia and libertopianism, and the fondness of libertarians to claim likewise to be “beyond left and right” (which is pretty much never actually true in fact), I hope I will be forgiven the suspicion that there is often a connection between the two claims—best symptomized by Virginia Postrel who simply grafts libertarian rhetoric onto technophilia and hopes a little terminological razzle dazzle will distract people into thinking she has said something interesting or new.

Dale Carrico Ph.D. was a fellow of the IEET from 2004 to 2008 and is a lecturer in the Department of Rhetoric at the University of California at Berkeley.

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