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The new Red threat to cyberspace?

Posted By -NO AUTHOR- On 11/10/1998 @ 1:00 am In Commentary | Comments Disabled

Technorealism:
a postmodern socialism for the new age

A new and unusually repulsive movement has arisen and is growing amongst
the various pundits, analysts, and armchair theorizers looking to explain the
information revolution to the rest of us — not that I should talk. It calls itself “technorealism,” and claims to stake out a detached, neutral higher ground from which to put the new technologies into context — loftily seeking, as its Web site says, “to
expand the fertile middle ground between techno-utopianism and neo-Luddism.”

The Post and MSNBC, among others, actually bought this middle-ground stuff; in practice, though, technorealism lists heavily toward the neo-Luddite end of the spectrum, and in all the worst ways. Technorealists, even those who work with the Internet and associated
technologies, seem to fear, distrust, even loathe it. They favor much more
government regulation of the Internet, specifically asserting the inadequacy of the marketplace — more: hinting at its perniciousness; in places, they appear to wish the state would simply nationalize large swatches of the Internet. I quote: “The citizenry should benefit and profit from the use of public frequencies, and should retain a portion of the spectrum for
educational, cultural, and public access uses. We should demand more for

private use of public property.” I’m not sure if that means they’re after a
sort of NEA for the Web — a National Endowment for the Technologies — or
would prefer a full-scale authoritarian takeover. Either way, I can’t begin
tell you how not hungry it makes me (even aside from its betrayal of an egregious failure to comprehend the nature of cyberspace). They also go in
for tendentious truisms that add little to the debates, yet nudge the reader
toward the anti camp (“Wiring the schools will not save them”).

Signers of the technorealist manifesto have their names and affiliations
posted on the site, and include about the cross-section you’d expect of left-leaning members of the intelligentsia (professors of this and that,

technogeeks, “student activists,” and so forth) and assorted lunatics (“Aquarian”). If you come across these guys — just so you know — they are
the enemy. Any doubts? Peruse the Chomsky-laced readings section listing

their seminal texts — like this
hyperpostmodern book, which, my God, actually contains a Jean Baudrillard interview [pause whilst friendly neighborhood columnist runs screaming from the room, gripped by horrendous 1989 pomo-theory flashback]; — and this
essay, which sounds pretty good at first, but reveals its true statist colors soon enough; and (oh, this is
a really egregious one, a Mother Jones screed called “Cyberselfish”; my blood
pressure’s up) this
one. Bad guys. The worst.

MADD’s bogus statistics

The basic nutshell point that MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) seeks to
put over — that drunk driving is a bad and dangerous idea — has so much
obvious and intrinsic PR value, quite aside from the question of its substantive merit, that you’d think MADD could let the simple power of its
message speak for itself. Not so, it seems. A new Web site blows the whistle on what appears to be a long-standing practice on MADD’s part of promulgating falsified and grossly overblown drunk-driving statistics.

The “Stop the MADDness” page lost a few credibility points with me at first
glance thanks to its lopsided ratio of proofreading to belligerence. Its

research, though, which is founded upon the making and analyzing of a direct comparison and contrast of MADD’s drunk-driving statistics with
the Department of Transportation’s FARS (NHTSA) data from the corresponding periods, is (if
I may be permitted to use the word) sobering.

While I’m not for one second about to try and make a case that driving
whilst drunk is actually perfectly harmless — and nor would I ever set out to
trivialize the grievous personal losses suffered by many anti-drunk-driving-movement activists — the fact remains that lies are lies. The most virtuous ends imaginable ought not to be advanced through fictitious statistics that have been bloated by tendentious “estimates” and twisted by creative math. And, since (ideally) resources are allocated to problems based upon their perceived severity, it seems an obvious possibility that anti-drunk-driving initiatives based upon distorted statistics may themselves be distorted, overblown, and ill advised. (The argument that “even one life saved would be worth any amount spent fighting drunk driving is, of course, sadly specious; extrapolate to one billion dollars per life saved and it becomes clear that limited resources require tough choices.) MADD should lobby hard for its goals, but it should play fair — avoiding tactics that are vulgar and ugly and insult the memories of those lost.

Why Johnny doesn’t like science
(and why you should worry about it)

Douglas R. Hofstadter’s Science magazine essay explores the increasingly dismissive attitude of American society to science — and the
effect of that attitude upon the young. Science, “that field of learning
that seeks out the universe’s deepest mysteries and confronts them head-on,” is nowadays all too frequently “sugar-coated … combined with irrelevancies such as action-packed stories, rock music, amusing quipsters, sassy jokes, sexual innuendoes, or up-to-date teen slang.” To create a real sense of what science is all about, on the contrary, Hofstadter suggests that “it is crucial to convey the sense that in equations and graphs can be found enormous, central truths about how things are, truths that are otherwise utterly inaccessible to the human imagination.”

My experience and gut tell me Hofstadter is right. The “magical” quality of
science is one of the few honest secular avenues to the awakening of a sense of genuine mystery, of wonder, of awe — of the possibility that deep
fundamental truths really do underlie the functioning of the universe —

that is left for growing children to discover in this day and age. The ghoulies
and ghosties of Halloween — even the vampires of Anne Rice, although her
immensely popular books do possess some moral-spiritual value — are a lousy substitute. It’s a damned shame (and I use the term advisedly) that the more religiously oriented sectors of American society so often set themselves in opposition to science teaching and to rigorous science curricula. The laws of physics and biology exist to deepen our human awe, not to dispel it.

(Hofstadter is the author of the Pulitzer prize-winning Gödel, Escher,
Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid

, a sort of thinkers’ cult classic that ties together the work of mathematician Gödel, graphic artist Escher, and composer Bach in an exploration of pattern and intelligence — recommended for yourself, your best friend, or your favorite bona-fide-genius teenager.)

Pro-hunt diva floors yours truly

I spent last week undergoing an ecstatic and exhausting series of experiences during which I was repeatedly drawn up to the uttermost pitch of unbearable gorgeous feeling, then plunged into a deep shaking weariness of soul and body. It wasn’t what you’re all thinking, either. It was my extraordinary good luck in catching two concerts of the first United States tour since 1995 by the painfully intelligent, searingly truthful, dauntingly talented PJ Harvey (whose latest album, the tour de force “Is This Desire?” can be found here ; look for it as a Grammy contender). In my not-humble opinion, Polly Jean Harvey leaves Courtney Love and Alanis Morisette absolutely nowhere. She’s
got a soul like a supernova and a rare, melancholic, yearning sensibility that’s evocative of both heaven and hell. Her songs often go so deep into the heart of experience you could weep. But this isn’t just Scotch-and-cigarette music; she’s having too much of a cracking good time playing it all out. The whole enterprise is compelling nearly beyond words. (I should point out that I’m not a major “alternative” type — a nice recording of Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610
is usually my speed — so it takes something pretty special in this line to knock me for a loop.) Anyway: Polly created quite an outcry last month in her home United Kingdom by coming out uncompromisingly in favor of fox hunting in an interview (she grew up in a Dorset village where foxes occasionally wreaked havoc amongst the family chickens, leaving her with a highly unsentimental view of foxes). This naturally brought a whole bunch of England’s PETA-equivalents (specifically, the League Against Cruel Sports ) out after her blood in a nasty baying pack. All I can say is, if they want to mess with Polly they’re going to have to deal with me first.

Osama bin Laden supporters, click here

Seriously, here’s a Web site hailing from that portion of the Muslim word
which fervently believes that terrorist Osama bin Laden is the greatest thing since sliced bread, won’t be content to occupy a square inch less than 100 percent of “the apartheid state of Israel’s land,” etc. Al-Muhajiroun leader and International Islamic front spokesman Sheik Omar Bakri Muhammad‘s page is a massive and well-done compendium of hard-line fundamentalist Islamic resources. OBM’s explicit and oft-repeated disavowal of any role for reason as a guide in navigating our lives and constructing our laws stands in forlorn contrast to the Pope’s recent emphasis on reason’s compatibility with — more, its vital role in — human and Christian decision making. To these guys, I can say only that the quickest way to heaven is to go play in traffic, and God speed you on your journey (preferably unaccompanied by the rest of us).


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