IEET > Rights > Economic > Vision > Former > Edward Miller > Technoprogressivism
What is Progressive in the 21st Century?
Edward Miller   Oct 8, 2010   Embrace Unity  

I have often referred to myself as a progressive but I have felt increasingly uneasy doing so. The word -progressive’, like virtually every other term which refers to a political ideology, has become so broadly applied as to become virtually meaningless.

Historically, the term conjured images of Teddy Roosevelt and “Fighting Bob” La Follette. Progressives were seen as outspoken and fiery advocates for the common man. They were trust-busters, anti-monopolists, and anti-corporatists. In terms of foreign policy they were at times divided, but when it came to economics their voice was loud and clear: “We demand that big business give the people a square deal.”

tr cartoonThe rest of that Roosevelt quote reads as follows: “in return we must insist that when any one engaged in big business honestly endeavors to do right he shall himself be given a square deal.” So progressivism was hardly anti-capitalist by any stretch of the imagination. It was simply a movement which sought to rectify the imbalances of power that had been usurped by the business elites. In the context of the era, this often happened through compromises, picking out “good trusts” from “bad trusts,” and later through the mixed bag of the New Deal.

In the present day, the Democrats have dusted off the progressive moniker and appropriated it for themselves. At their best they see themselves as nostalgic curators of the memory of the post-war economic order. The one which propelled the longest period of sustained rising wages and growth in US history. At their worst, Democrats are merely the friendlier face of corporatism. Unfortunately, if opinion polls are to be believed, the image which seems to be prevailing is the latter one. Thus, the good name of progressivism has been dragged through the mud, and all the Democrats have to say to their disappointed public is, “Stop whining.”

Even if we for some reason concede the best of intentions to the Democrats, and conclude they are hoping to achieve progressive change through corporatist means, it is self-defeating lunacy at best. Defending these lunatics gets us nowhere. Virtually nothing hoped for by genuine progressives will come to pass unless our discourse changes dramatically, and we once again find that fighting anti-corporatist spirit.

Perhaps it is blasphemy to say, but what if progressivism’s historic achievement, the New Deal economy, is no longer viable? Kevin Carson has written a number of damning critiques of the progressive movement. Instead of engaging in the quixotic task of perpetually reforming bureaucracies that will inevitably corrupt, we must recognize that the era of big business, big bureaucracy, and big infrastructure needs to come to an end. There are no “good trusts.” With its crowning invention of the Internet, the corporate-state apparatus has laid the seeds for its own obsolescence.

I suspect Carson is wrong when he says that progressivism was fundamentally misguided from the start, considering the realities of the Gilded Age through the WW2 era and the fact that it’s doubtful the Internet would be here so soon otherwise. Though, since the Internet has arrived, perhaps it is time to recognize that now more than ever we need to re-orient our economy towards Lewis Mumford’s neotechnic ideal.

We must usher in an era of flexible manufacturing networks, digital fabrication, and distributed production. This sort of resilient model is our only hope against the converging crises we are experiencing, from the economic to the ecological.

Can progressives take the lead? We cannot go on defending the ever more draconian nature of the so-called “Intellectual Property” regime, the enormous corporate-captured regulatory system, the blood-sucking finance sector, and the gargantuan military-industrial-complex. We must stand firm against them, like a bull moose!

Edward Miller, a former intern of the IEET, is the Chief Information Officer of the Network for Open Scientific Innovation. He is a passionate advocate of Open Source development models. His blog, EmbraceUnity, deals with democracy, humanism, and sustainable development.



COMMENTS

You are convincing. However if you engage, just for starters, libertopians, you are in for “challenging”, “bracing”, “calm” discussions in the marketplace of ideas; and ten years from now pretty much the same discussions over & again.

...but after this tea party decade, who knows? Palin is now worth at the very least 10 million; by 2020 she will almost certainly be a centimillionaire; then running for office might appear boring compared to being famous-for-being-famous and watching her children on ‘Dancing With The Stars’.
Selling out isn’t so bad after all—so far be it from me to not accentuate the positive.

I wholeheartedly agree with your way forward, but white male supremacist and warmonger Teddy Roosevelt deserves no place as a mascot.

postfuturist,

I understand your frustration. I typically place more hope with decentralized solutions which make the need for politics obsolete in a particular domain. Though, ideas still rule the world. Even more than money, and my hope is to make the decentralization meme more reproductively fit.

Technology is crucial, and a techno-progressive approach to the future can be very positive if it emphasizes building internet-enabled communities and networks instead of bureaucracies.


Summerspeaker,

Teddy Roosevelt is an American icon, and he isn’t remembered for “white male supremacism.” Perhaps he is somewhat remembered for warmongering. Though, more than anything, he was known for his fighting anti-corporatist spirit. My hope was distilling that best aspect of historical progressivism for the purposes of re-invigorating the progressive movement in a more radical way that is still in line with the American tradition.

I understand your frustration. I typically place more hope with “decentralized solutions which make the need for politics obsolete in a particular domain. Though, ideas still rule the world. Even more than money, and my hope is to make the decentralization meme more reproductively fit.”

Surprisingly though, many oppose transhumanism because they want it to themselves. Which isn’t impossible, they can’t ultimately monopolize longevity in a decentralized world, however they can ruin many lives. Frankly, they will.

Everything about Teddy is explicitly macho and violent, including the cartoon in this piece. If he’s not generally remembered for white male supremacy it’s because that ideology remains tacitly acceptable in present-day America and thus isn’t worthy of comment.

Summerspeaker,

The cartoon is actually meant to satirize Teddy, and although I don’t necessarily have a negative impression of the man, I don’t think his specific ideas can point the way forward per se. His economic ideas were pragmatic for the historical period he was in, but progressivism should be anything but stagnant.

I admire his fiery spirit, which is in stark contrast to the spineless Democrats, and you may call it “machismo” if you like. Though, if I ever join a political campaign, remind me never to hire you as an advisor.

Well, at least you embody the spirit of the times.  Bring back the silent majority - the endless criticism is the real anachronism.

I appreciate fiery spirit more when it comes from folks who don’t condemn opponents of imperialist war as “shrill eunuchs” and “sexless creatures.” Not being a famous killer of both human and nonhuman animals also helps.

“Everything about Teddy is explicitly macho and violent, including the cartoon in this piece. If he’s not generally remembered for white male supremacy it’s because that ideology remains tacitly acceptable in present-day America and thus isn’t worthy of comment.”

Agreed, mostly. Men dominate women, and Teddy’s ego was a dominator of men (thus women, too): “the bride at every wedding, the corpse at every funeral.” It was a different time, yes; however now we can see how vicious politics is to this day. In a Man’s world, Palin is merely a shill. IMO as long as human is human, men will be able to control women; being that men are willing to use violence, while women are not.
There’s a code I’m starting to be aware of, not any sort of a precise code, but messages are coming through. Take Leon Kass’ “everybody must die on schedule”; it’s not what is said, but rather what is not said: in Kass’ message what was not said is, “everybody must die on schedule (save for MY people).”
The Tea Party is, when you strip away the obfuscation, saying “Less Government (that we don’t like).”
Palin says ‘ObamaCare’ consists of death squads, medical valkyries allegedly hovering over us, choosing who lives and who dies. But when Palin took umbrage at Rahm Emanuel for cursing “effing retards” (directed at leftwingers she doesn’t like) she revealed something about herself and not merely her ideology. Palin feels insecure that her infant son has Down Syndrome; in her zero-sum world she fears her son is expendable in some way—or why her inappropriate outburst at Rahm’s comment having nothing whatsoever to do with her, let alone her son?
Again, the codes aren’t definite, or permanent.. as all cyphering, there is a continuous updating of codes, buzzwords, etc.

“I appreciate fiery spirit more when it comes from folks who don’t condemn opponents of imperialist war as “shrill eunuchs” and “sexless creatures.” Not being a famous killer of both human and nonhuman animals also helps.”

No disagreement; but “human” (inhuman) in a Man’s world means continuing violence until de-animalization.

Summerspeaker,

Look, I’m a vegetarian and not about to defend his hunting. Though I will hunting and eating wild animals it is less repulsive than paying others to raise an animal for a life of extreme suffering.

I often see Democrats pretending to be one of the common folk at county fairs biting into hot dogs or something as a strange sort of photo op. It sends me the absolute wrong impression, to say the least.

Though, that should highlight the fact that we can’t expect our culture to change for the better in every way all at once.

It wouldn’t bother me in the least if a meat-eating chauvinist who supports the wars were the one to lead a campaign against corporatism. While I might personally wish Dennis Kucinich would be the champion, I am not so hopeful of that.

The hardcore left wing are not very well suited for making political change, and the most they can hope for is positive contributions to culture and civil society.

Living in a democracy means you must accept both the good and the bad. Since leftists often don’t like to participate in anything that the common folks enjoy, including sports, meat-eating, and so on, it isn’t really such a surprise that the Left are beginning to be despised as “elitists.”

If you are cynical enough to have lost all hope of political success, then by all means disparage every American icon and blast every politician who is photographed eating meat and start campaigns to tear down the local sports arenas to build zen gardens.

It won’t make a damn bit of difference, but it might make you feel good. And that’s what counts, right?

“I suspect Carson is wrong when he says that progressivism was fundamentally misguided from the start, considering the realities of the Gilded Age through the WW2 era”

This makes it sound as though the progressives were working to correct those “realities.””  But part of Carson’s point is that progressives and the corporate elite were largely allies in maintaining those realities.

Roderick,

I think you are being too harsh on the Progressives. The progressives, being the third party of their day, were not as beholden to special interests as you seem to believe, nor were even in lock step with Teddy’s “good trusts” and “bad trusts” mentality.

Reading Carson’s writings I see he referred to fellow progressives who didn’t go along with him as “rural Tories.”

It is true this article focuses a bit too much on Teddy Roosevelt because he has a greater reputation and all. Though I would stand by the claim that not only did he believe he was doing the right thing for the common man, but that generally his ideas did in fact provide a substantive improvement over the alternative approaches of the day.

While market anarchists might wish to lump all market interventions in with fascism, that was not the intent or even the consequence of his actions. Though, I admit, it is a dangerous route to travel down.

What I meant by the realities of the era was that there were fundamental problems in coordinating decentralized action at the time. Even the most successful attempts at this, like the IWW, had generally recognized figureheads and organizers… not to mention that they ultimately failed.

Before the Internet, social media, and other communications technologies, it simply wasn’t so feasible to do the stuff I advocate in the article.

Furthermore, the devastation of the Great Depression era was pretty immense and the public works programs of the era were good for both psychological and economic reasons… though other parts of the New Deal like the price controls were not so great.

Then, in the lead-up to WW2, the Allies simply couldn’t have won without pouring massive funds into the defense industry, and instituting the draft, producing lots of propaganda, and so on.

I wish none of that was necessary, but unfortunately it was. Though really any criticism would be monday morning quarterbacking. My main point is that from here on out we must embrace increasingly decentralized organizational models.

Let me also add a few more comments. The Progressive Movement was formed in reaction to an already established corporatist system that existed long before they ever entered the picture… with the railroads, and the banks, and the oil industry, and so on.

Dealing with an already existing corporatist system, with the only effective weapon of the time… republican democracy… is a very sensible approach. While even their ultimate achievement… the three decades following WW2… were not up to the standards I would like, they were clearly a vast improvement over the Gilded Age.

They were also the party of Jane Addams. Are you really going to tell me that Jane Addams would have been an ally in maintaining corporate dominance? If anything, her ideas mirror the Mutual Aid ethos of left-libertarianism.

Summerspeaker wrote: “If he’s not generally remembered for white male supremacy it’s because that ideology remains tacitly acceptable in present-day America and thus isn’t worthy of comment.”

I, for one, think it’s worthy of comment.

According to http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,2015274,00.html
“Study: Young, Single, Childless Women Earn More Than Men - TIME “

and

http://www.newsweek.com/2010/09/15/women-earn-most-doctorates-but-find-colleges-not-family-friendly.html

“Women Earn More Doctorates Than Men”

“Study: Young, Single, Childless Women Earn More Than Men”
“Women Earn More Doctorates Than Men”

The above is superficial: men have power, women (save for women who are sovereign individuals) merely have influence.
That’s why I don’t dislike (though it would be easy to) Palin as a person, she is only a Mother Mary/Joan d’ Arc figure of rightwing feminism—at best.  Unfortunately, Palin’s strength, determination; and her looks (which speaks volumes) especially, means she is going to be in the spotlight for a long time, a very long time. However in retrospect it was predictable an attractive strong woman would be lifted up high. But why did she have to be Republican? Far from being out of place, Summerspeaker brought up the most important social issue of all: women’s role in the future, when you also reckon with how women in third world nations (and tribal regions) don’t have rights to speak of; in Mideast nations—aside from perhaps Israel—women are chattel.
It was the following paragraph from Richard Brookhiser that planted in my mind the seed of doubt concerning futurism (by extension transhumanism. For it goes without saying if the future is too negative then h+ is threatened; Space interest, as well):

“[certain famous futurists] see that the clash of one [epochal]wave with another causes turbulence. What they don’t see is that the turbulence lasts for millennia. Our notions of warfare and masculinity [can be traced back] to the era of hunter-gatherers.”

The era of hunter-gatherers stretches back ice ages ago!

I have been thinking about the term “pro-progress progressive” which may seem redundant, but so many “progressives” are hostile to & suspicious of progress in the general sense. FM-2030 had a better term - Upwing - but it never caught on.

Big infrastructure projects don’t have necessarily to be bad.
One example are the recently approved solar-thermic power plants in southern California. (And there are even more to come; in California as well as Nevada, creating renewable, clean eco-protective energy in dimensions of nuclear power plants.)
But this is approved by the Administration, the democratic institution in the nation-state. But I consider this form of organization, that was perhaps well suited in the age of Washington and Jefferson, now as a little bit outdated. I would say it is a representative and therefore only formal democracy. It will be more emancipative/giving every citizen more power in expressing their point of view, if there exists a more participatory, basic-democratic way of organizing society.

As you mentioned, one solution for the future organization of the world is the internet. By access of every person in the world to that instant communication the foundation of a more basic-democratic way of decision making will be made. And - with effective protection of minorities - world-wide basic-democratic decisions can be worked out - even on big infrastructure issues.

BCS,

Good point. If a distributed group of people can join together in a direct democratic fashion to build a large infrastructure project, more power to them.

I am not actually opposed to all statist solutions, but the type of model I would like to see… the Georgist model… is nowhere near what we have now.

If the community reclaimed its ownership over the natural and community-generation portions of what is known as “rent” then it could be used to fund essential institutions, with the rest distributed as a Citizen’s Dividend to all adult citizens. This would actually provide built-in incentives for small government, and also basically eliminate poverty.

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