(The Control Revolution, by Andrew Shapiro)
Years ago, before Monica and Drudge and the other nightmarish icons that now fill up the President's line of sight, Bill Clinton belonged to something called the Democratic Leadership Council. Its goal was to bring the Democratic Party rightward and put the party into a position to win the Presidency back after many years.
I didn't really know how "rightward" the DLC's thinking actually was at the time. I just remember the way Clinton was booed at one of the Democratic Party's National Conventions. Retrospectively, I now think, after looking at seven years of what can only be called his moderate GOP record, those folks apparently knew more than I did about the man.
With that history as kind of a backdrop:
Let me be the first to stand up and roundly jeer Andrew Shapiros Technorealist Manifesto "The Control Revolution".
I snidely jeer and rudely hoot in my funny, confetti strewn Old Glory hat because I think I now know a little more about the man. Like the angry fictional character in the movie "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story": "I have read your book. I know all your tricks."
I believe the Technorealist movement, at least judging from this book, is the Internet version of the DLC. Without blushing, they fashion themselves as the "reasonable" people who stand between the old Rosetto-led Wired types, who allegedly equate increasing processor speed with Nirvana, and those people who keep drawing up restrictive and freedom killing CDA legislation to "protect" us.
Yet I dont find this first articulated "middle ground" to be very appealing.
While many things left me shaking my head about "The Control Revolution", two ideas struck me as being the most disturbing, one: He selects the "government" as being the "impartial" arbiter between opposing sides. And two: The idea that the middle ground between all opposing ideas is the most logical consensus, mixed in with sly defense of traditional media and professional elites in general.
Here's a shortlist of things that Andrew Shapiro, allegedly a sharp guy, thinks the government should mediate or create: a federal privacy panel, public spaces on the internet, limitations on patents for operating systems, and rules that big portal players like Microsoft, TCI and AOL would have to abide by (Where's this guy live, Mayberry?).
First, I can't believe that Shapiro thinks that the government is an objective mediator. There was this great Hot Wired lead that went something like "The Senator from Novell vs. The Senator from Microsoft" that perfectly describes our current "Best Congress That Money Can Buy" reality.
The reason you don't have European level privacy protocols here in the United States is that the new Net Elite wants as much marketing information as they can possibly get. Privacy, shmivacy they probably grunt as they notice I've been to alt.bestiality 4000 times in the last week. Just by accident, I took a look at my cookies file in my Explorer browser and I had 30 mbs worth. Information, I assume, that someone else is using in order to make a buck.
I suppose I could change that. I just have to overcome the lobbying efforts by Oracle, Sun, Microsoft, Ebay, CNET, AOL, TCI, Worldnet, Ziff-Davis, Disney, Novell, Amazon and numerous others I don't have the room to mention. I don't think that I'm going to win.
He even makes this argument himself, unwittingly, when he states on page 73 that " we are not yet accustomed to thinking of technology design as a highly politicized sphere of life."
Does Shapiro actually think his mandate for public spaces in cyberspace would be achieved in an unpoliticized "sphere of life". This from a president and a congress that wouldn't set aside one digital channel for public access?
Does Shapiro believe mandates and limitations on Microsoft and AOL, big political players who are starting to give money to both parties in a big big way, are realistic? Frankly, I dont find his suggestions to be either technical or realistic.
Laughably and unpersuasively, Shapiro, forced into this by his unreal remedies, finds himself defending our current bought-off representative Democracy--because, after all, these "competent" men like Helms, Hatch and Delay are our arbiters. He comes off sounding as wide eyed and na´ve as that Jimmy Stewart character before he actually knew anything about Washington. Let me quote him at length here. You tell me what's wrong with this picture:
"Third, decisionmakers must be independent enough to protect everyone's interests and rights. This was a primary reason the founders preferred a representative republic to a direct democracy. As Madison argued, factionalism--or what we might today call "special interests"--might corrupt the union were it not for the independence of representatives."
You could sort of take this apart line by line.
First, modern day legislators aren't independent, they're clearly beholden to their big, wealthy contributors. You can pretty much track their votes according to their money. Two, that wasn't a primary reason for wanting a republic. They created this system in order to benefit the wealthiest individuals in society, back then it was wealthy landowners, or them. Now, its landowners, defense contractors, aspiring software trillionaires, etc.
What they were most afraid of wasn't "factionalism", but the horrifying idea that some of the proles might take this democracy stuff seriously and demand something "dangerous" and "seditious" such as a more equal share of the property, or rights for women, freedom for slaves and other such treason. I can't believe Shapiro once wrote for the Nation. Did he throw away his Howard Zinn?
In other words, the Founders, which Shapiro capitalizes, created this system primarily for wealthy elites and guess what: The System Works. If you are Bill Gates, and you start upping your political contributions ever since that government lawsuit, then the United States can work for you. If you're some homeless person in need of healthcare or cheap housing, then, well, don't hold your breath and find some shelter.
Yet again, in his own book, he makes arguments that allude to his overall thematic weaknesses. Painstakingly, Shapiro details the government's miscues and evil intent when it comes to CDA and Encryption policy. But these same Yahoos are supposed to be, and I quote from that infamous page 156 again: "effective leaders and problem solvers." Shapiro must have missed those senate impeachment hearings.
So, I imagine if Shapiro were to ever read my review as he reclines confortably somewheres in his Ivory Tower located in downtown Mayberry, he would use his Lawyer Mojo and challenge me to address the serious problems that hes laid out.
Not to be modest, but Ive already solved the nations problems in another piece I wrote on Joe Firmages book "The Truth". Just to synopsize: If you really want a revolution, then invest in political reform. I would humbly suggest building a real Third Party in the abstract. As for the immediate and the specific, I would support Jesse Venturas bid to wrest control of the Reform Party away from Ross Perot. If hes successful, then that could be the foundation for an alternative party.
Once that happens, push for real campaign reform. I wouldnt necessarily mind my reps debating my rights if I was confident that my reps were making their deliberations based on the "greatest good for the greatest number" as opposed to "My friend Generous George: Microsoft lobbyist and informal policy advisor" Shapiro makes an articulate argument that private tyrannies that control both our browser and OS could be just as evil as any dictatorship. Yet he seems to miss the fact that these same entities have way too much influence on our political institutions as well.
I would also push, and I have to admit Im hesitant about this solution, but I think we need to give the market a chance. I say this not because I believe in the Justice of the Invisible Hand, but because quite frankly it moves a lot faster and it hasnt been poisoned by lobbyist influence.
I also concur with Shapiro that the governments anti trust suits against Microsoft is valid, but it will take several more years for a resolution. By then of course, considering Microsofts inclination toward being a Washington player, no matter which party wins they would probably owe Microsoft. Thus, the sanctions will be weak, if any. In fact, the completely bought out party, the GOP, has already dropped hints that they would throw out the suit if their numbers improve in 2000. I translate that to mean they would neuter a government victory with meaningless penalties.
Market competitors in the communications industry move much faster. Redmond has much more to worry about from Red Hat or Java or from the Palm OS than those folks at Justice.
The second argument of his book that I found disturbing is his belief in the now completely discredited theory of journalistic "objectivity". He takes on this issue in a whole chapter called the "The Drudge Factor". Hes just not a big fan of Drudge. Personally, I find him kind of harmless. I dont think hes a talented writer and I think he has a very transparent and incorrect view of what power is, and who really wields it. If he had a correct view, then hed be paying more attention to who Greenspan or who the IMF is sleeping with on the side, and not Clinton.
Yet, despite the fact that many people are aware of the mans weaknesses, Shapiro tries to inspire me to hate the man. But he does it in a completely ineffective way. One he argues that traditional media is somehow more ethical and two, he wants me to hate Matt Drudge because nobody can fire him. He quotes Matt Drudge on page 141 saying, "Whats Mike McCurry going to do, call my boss?"
I again find myself astonished at Shapiros lack of real world experience of the last several years. Just about every reporter that took on a controversial target, whether it was Chiquita Banana or the CIA or the Military lost their jobs. They were either pressured, fired or threatened with jail time. Frankly, I would feel a lot better if Gary Webb didnt have to worry about somebody calling his boss, either.
I dont have to like Matt Drudge in order to like the fact that he can write whatever he wants, badly, and still keep his job. In fact, whats needed is a Matt Drudge of the Left, which brings me to his defense of the "objectivity". It just doesnt exist. I might add that the reason why Drudge is the darling of the media, is that its pretty much a right wing, big money media. Who else are they are going to pick to lionize, the far superior yet left leaning Salon?
So, in summation, heres a final quote from Shapiro, which sort of captures his fear of the future in a nutshell.
Referring to what Shapiro thinks would be some nightmarish Bizarro reality where people can privately pick out their own governments he laments:
"What might happen in such a world? Traditional government figures would go from being resented and mistrusted to jettisoned and ultimately irrelevant. Even if it seems on occasion that this is what some of them deserve, we cant let the weakness of our actual circumstances cause us to lose all faith in what is possible "
"Could American Democracy survive if its political institutionsthe presidency, the Congress, the Supreme Courtwere unable to establish and maintain authority? What about schools, the press or religious institutions?"
Well, honestly, what about it? Let them die.
Those institutions are, for the most part, at best, deeply flawed and at worst, rotten to the core. It can be argued that they have not and have perhaps never done their jobs very well, whatever those jobs are.
Better a future where I can express myself than a past where I needed Ivy League credentials and bluer eyes to get my words into the public sphere.
If thats chaos, then give me chaos.