14 September 2005

Technology and Bureaucracy (Part 2)

(Part 1)

Blogs, independent news gathering, and the connected PDA are all challenges to bureaucratic power. Bureaucracies, whether belonging to firms, NGOs, or governments, are essential tools for the services those organizations render, but they have to be accountable. If not, they become a complete menace to human freedom and safety.

This is so obvious I feel embarrassed having to say it. Put abstractly, it is non-threatening enough, even vapid. Applied to specific situations, like the military conduct at Guantanamo Bay, one is likely to be called a traitor by high ranking government officials. Likewise, libertarians don't win my respect when they essentially reason that firms that ruthlessly suppress independent information about themselves, are somehow entitled to because "they're private." In other words, libertarians seem anxious to establish that, in the power struggle between the corporation, state, and individual, if the corporation wins absolute control, then it's absolutely OK. No matter how the corporation uses that power. Such prima facie defenses, in my opinion, prove immutably that the people who propound them are fanatics, as dangerous to freedom as fascists are.

And the fact is that this is one of the reasons why "intimate computing" has failed to pose a significant challenge to bureaucracy. Bureaucracies seem to have recruited robotic defenders, not merely of them, which should be understandable, but of their worst excesses. The tiny minority of blogs or independent media sources that actually do show genuine signs of intellectual curiosity, are bogged down by human "bots" that rabidly attack them and slime them. The affair of "Rathergate" is quite illustrative; while companies like Clearchannel can set up AM radio stations to broadcast the "movement conservative" message everywhere in the country, they require a steady stream of petty scandals to demonize their enemies. I occasionally monitor AM radio stations, and I've noticed that they don't actually promote a positivist or normative message at all—not anymore. Nowadays, it's all hate all the time—hatred not merely of "leftists," "feminazis," "the homosexual agenda," or the "liberal elites," but also of conservatives who depart, however briefly, from the "movement." In order to personally slime even the most impeccably credentialed conservatives, "movement conservatives" require a machine that digs up dirt or circulates slander that isn't even true. In this respect, the power of the internet to hunt down minions and duplicate talking points, seems an insuperable weapon of bureaucrats to protect themselves.

(Part 3)



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