Solutionism

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I was reading this fascinating article and this part reminded me of Gatchaman Crowds:

“Citizenville,” which seems to be unread, if not unknown, where its heroes live and work, has won praise from no less than Newt Gingrich. This shouldn’t be surprising, since its terms point toward an arrangement in which many of the tasks of government are outsourced to citizens empowered with smartphones. When Newsom acknowledged that San Francisco was becoming unaffordable to many residents—“Can’t have a vibrant democracy without a vibrant middle class”—I asked how “Citizenville” addressed this problem.

“I don’t know that it does,” Newsom said. “I’d like to have an answer to that. I didn’t take that on squarely. I was looking at competence in government.”

Technology can be an answer to incompetence and inefficiency. But it has little to say about larger issues of justice and fairness, unless you think that political problems are bugs that can be fixed by engineering rather than fundamental conflicts of interest and value. Evgeny Morozov, in his new book “To Save Everything, Click Here,” calls this belief “solutionism.” Morozov, who is twenty-nine and grew up in a mining town in Belarus, is the fiercest critic of technological optimism in America, tirelessly dismantling the language of its followers. “They want to be ‘open,’ they want to be ‘disruptive,’ they want to ‘innovate,’ ” Morozov told me. “The open agenda is, in many ways, the opposite of equality and justice. They think anything that helps you to bypass institutions is, by default, empowering or liberating. You might not be able to pay for health care or your insurance, but if you have an app on your phone that alerts you to the fact that you need to exercise more, or you aren’t eating healthily enough, they think they are solving the problem.”

Pretty much. Technology can’t solve all our problems. And it takes a colossal amount of arrogance to imagine that all it takes is a new idea for a cellphone app.

Same thing with the premise of Gatchaman Crowds. Everything the Crowds can do— the people could do the exact same things with their physical bodies. Why should we imagine people would behave any differently when using some technology?

5 thoughts on “Solutionism

  1. I haven’t seen Gatchaman Crowds but I definitely can relate to the issue at hand. I think the problem is that these two things are a bit muddled. Political institutions are maybe 10% decision making and reaching compromise between opposing viewpoints and 90% cumbersome bureaucratic apparatus whose sole purpose is to get shit done. Clearly where technology can really help is in the “get shit done” department. And there is merit to the fact that while having good knowledge of an issue does not reduce the space of possible solutions to only one we can all agree on (well, maybe it would, if we were smarter beings than we are, but that would only mean that we would hit the limits of our ability on problems of HIGHER level), it surely helps weeding out the ones that can easily summed up as “totally fucking stupid”.

    However just one look at the internet also tells us that its perfectly flat, democratic treatment of information is completely incompatible with our way of effectively processing knowledge. It creates biases and echo chambers and with anonymity it encourages sociopathic behaviour. So… yeah, crowdsourcing of power structures ain’t going to be the be-all-end-all solution to our governance problems any time soon.

  2. We have to remember that Rui’s original distribution of CROWDS came with a bunch of moderating caveats. The gameification via GALAX was used to push the normally apathetic 60% to pursue goals of Rui’s choosing. Then Rui himself, with X’s help, moderated the other 40%, vetting the “altruistic” 20% and excluding the “malicious 20%.

    In S1, whether the 60% was manipulated by the altruistic or the malicious was determined by who had control of GALAX. When Berg had it, the technology was used to damage things. OD had to get the Note back to Rui for him to retaliate.

    As Hajime put it, the technology is not good or bad, it’s a tool, reflective of its user.

    If Citizenville puts its users to work for fascist purposes, it would still be a means of making the government more efficient, and yet it was also definitely be a Bad Thing. (And wasn’t that one of the points Anakin was complaining about in the prequels, which made him easier pickings for Palpatine? Bureaucracy in democracy is mostly about making sure that malicious intent is mitigated as much as possible, with the side effect of delaying altruistic intent as well.)

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