Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher


Digital power in the postmodern age

posted by Rod Dreher

A great Edge exchange between Evgeny Morozov and Clay Shirky about how the Internet and digital technology works to affect power relations within polities. Morozov says he thinks techno-utopians in the press are taking a too-narrow view of how the Internet conditions and subverts power relationships in society:

One of the reasons I’ve been so unhappy with how the media have been covering the role of the Internet in Iran — and this I guess also has to do with them reading certain things into your book that you did not intend to say there — is the almost exclusive focus on analyzing what the Internet has done to protest movements, at the expense of thinking about its impact on everything else. But if we focus only on how people coordinate themselves with the help of social media before, during, or after the elections, we miss many other effects that the Internet is having in public, social, and political life in authoritarian states, especially in the long term.
Shouldn’t we also be asking whether it’s making people more receptive to nationalism? Or whether it might be promoting a certain (hedonism-based) ideology that may actually push them further away from any meaningful engagement in politics? Does it actually empower certain non-state forces within authoritarian states that may not necessarily be conductive to democracy and freedom? Those are all big questions which we cannot answer if we just focus on who gets empowered during the protests, the state or the protesters, because some countries, well, don’t have that many protests. Or elections. China doesn’t have national elections.

I keep meaning to get around to blogging about James Davison Hunter’s new book, which discusses culture-makers as having the real power in the world (versus mere politicians). Later, I promise. Meanwhile, John Brockman of Edge has a tart observation about academics and the conversation about communications and media’s impact on the current world:

The questions being asked in this conversation are for the most part coming from thinkers who are not situated in traditional academic disciplines and whose authority is not derived from institutional affiliations. This is a crowd of maverick intellectuals. In addition to Evgeny Morozov and Clay Shirky, participants in the ongoing Edge discussion include David Gelernter, George Dyson, Nicholas Carr, Jaron Lanier, Kevin Kelly, Yochai Benkler, Douglas Rushkoff, and Charles Leadbeater. Only Gelernter (Yale), Benkler (Harvard), Shirky (NYU), hold academic positions.
Perhaps one reason there are so few thinkers from the psychology, anthropology, sociology, and philosophy departments of our major universities contributing to this conversation is that communications theory has long been deemed to be a low-prestige discipline among academics. The best people are likely to be found outside academia.



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Scott Lahti

posted April 14, 2010 at 3:43 am


Maybe people will think I’m a starets.Like Uncle Jesse!
Well, if you’re really going for the whole Orthodox shtick, better that you seek your disciple not in Gomer Pyle’s rocky-mountainous jug-band namesake Denver, patriarch though the latter’s character was, back in Mayberry days, of the Darling clan, but rather
in an Uncle Jesse for a newer generation, Jesse Katsopolis, or his SAGging alter ego John Stamos.*
*Not to be confused with his Full House co-star and fraternal Guildsman Bob SAGit
With such echt-Hellenic patronyms, his ego – unlike that of that guy from America’s “Sister Golden Hair” – really is “ready for the altar”, and all too, too easy to find, i.e., everywhere you look, everywhere you look…



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Scott Lahti

posted April 14, 2010 at 3:48 am


My 3:43 comment above, stored and eerily pasted from the “Roger Staubach” thread as a result of hitting Refresh, bids our host “Please delete me, let me go”.
A great Edge exchange between Evgeny Morozov and Clay Shirky
A nice Morozov cocktail: see also the review by Morozov in the TLS last month of an important new book on digital-age privacy.
Shouldn’t we also be asking whether it’s making people more receptive to nationalism? Or whether it might be promoting a certain (hedonism-based) ideology that may actually push them further away from any meaningful engagement in politics?
In his 1980s interview with Bill Moyers, George Steiner spoke of the seductions of the privatistic cul-de-sac incarnate in the “do your own thing” ethos of the countercultural young, and the dangers resulting of abandoning the public square to the barbarians newly enhanced by the vacuum.
Does it actually empower certain non-state forces within authoritarian states that may not necessarily be conductive to democracy and freedom?
Yes, and in freer societies as well – what Morozov calls the “data-hungry corporation”.
I keep meaning to get around to blogging about James Davison Hunter’s new book, which discusses culture-makers as having the real power in the world (versus mere politicians).
A proverbial theme of Dreher Blog 1.0, e.g., “More ISI, Less CPAC”, now on steroids as Luzianna Dreher enters with cracking whip the Templeton of Wisdom. Traditionalist mamas, make sure your babies grow up to be screenwriters, songwriters, playwrights, English/history/social science professors, philosophers, editors, painters, cartoonists, blog commenters, &c.
Meanwhile, John Brockman of Edge
I wonder how many readers do a quick double-take in confusing him with the brainy comedian/pitchman John Hodgman?
The questions being asked in this conversation are for the most part coming from thinkers who are not situated in traditional academic disciplines and whose authority is not derived from institutional affiliations. This is a crowd of maverick intellectuals.
Kirkpatrick Sale pre-figured that assertion in The Nation in 1987, in “Where Not to Find New Ideas”, writing of the vast galaxy of countercultural, decentralist, wholistic, organic, integralist, Perennialist, Third Way/Fourth World, and New Age thinkers of the “emerging” culture – e.g., Wendell Berry, E.F. Schumacher, Wes Jackson, Stewart Brand, Jane Jacobs, MANAS (periodical), &c. – whose influence took root and flower outside the institutional imperatives of the modern research university, bypassing the latter in its growing state-corporate imperatives and bias toward the curatorial/critical faculties over those of primary creation. Sale might overstate the case a bit – Berry, for example, taught writing at the University of Kentucky cheek-by-jowl with the late and amazing Guy Davenport, and college towns serve as meccas for booklovers, library users and visiting/resident artists of all kinds, as well as crossroads for incubating cross-fertilizing non-institutional artistic communities – but that is only to say that our angle of vision ought not foreground the campus overmuch, as we appreciate the wild and unpredictable habitations of the human imagination.
In addition to Evgeny Morozov and Clay Shirky, participants in the ongoing Edge discussion include David Gelernter, George Dyson, Nicholas Carr, Jaron Lanier, Kevin Kelly, Yochai Benkler, Douglas Rushkoff, and Charles Leadbeater. Only Gelernter (Yale), Benkler (Harvard), Shirky (NYU), hold academic positions.
Brockman, too, overstates just a bit: Morozov is posted at Georgetown (as, tellingly, a Yahoo! fellow), Lanier at UCal Berkeley, and Rushkoff, late of NYU, is now at the New School University. True, such newer posts are often improvised or adjunct or extraterritorial vis-a-vis disciplines, but just as the liberal corporate capitalism of what Zygmunt Bauman would call “liquid modernity” is awfully good at what the late Joe Strummer called “turning rebellion into money”, so, too, does what Russell Kirk called “Behemoth U.” have a way of what Toucan Sam would call following its nose (it always knows) in demanding that social change of all sorts will, as Cuba Gooding Jr.’s Rod Tidwell (in Jerry Maguire) would say, “show [it] the money” as a result of its modish ideational head-hunting.
Perhaps one reason there are so few thinkers from the psychology, anthropology, sociology, and philosophy departments of our major universities contributing to this conversation is that communications theory has long been deemed to be a low-prestige discipline among academics. The best people are likely to be found outside academia.
Bit overdrawn, too? Structural linguistics…semiotics…Chomsky (MIT)…John Searle (Berkeley)…Nicholas Negroponte (MIT)…Neil Postman (NYU)…developing…
Readers who enjoyed this thread also enjoyed:
Take My Ritalin: Pleas by Jenny Hungman
We Were Rod Dreher’s Traveling Chili Cooks, or, Crunchy-Con Carnys by Billy-Bob Habanereaux, Will Travel, Justin Thyme and Og Airowntee



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