Mark Stahlman (via RadioMail) on Tue, 30 Sep 1997 16:21:18 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Re: the User is the Content - Reality and Utopia


Recent discussion on this list has begun to dovetail with other discussions
on other lists and I sense that our mutual frustration over the lack of
clear initiatives and common contexts may be coming to a head.  If so, this
will be welcome.

Concerns about "commercialization" and the loss of "humanness" in our
lives, along with the perception that technology is making things worse
instead of better are beginning to bubble to the surface of the tar pit we
call the Internet.  It should be obvious that giving everyone access to the
Net will *not* fix our problems.  And, treating ourselves like victims who
are oppressed by "them" will only make us weaker.  I suspect that
something's going to blow.

Richard Moore recently posted a long essay titled "Democracy and
Cyberspace" to CPSR's cyber-rights list.  I'll encourage him to repost it
here but, in the meanwhile, here is my response to cyber-rights (apologies
to those who are already familiar with my arguments) -- 


I wanted to wait for Richard to finish before commenting on his essay. 
Overall, it seems to be a valuable contribution.  He's asking many of the
right questions; which is always the most difficult part.  What really are
the most likely consequences of the technologies which we are creating? 
Who are we?  Who are we becoming?

However, Richard left out the most important issue of all -- morality. 
Without morality, Richard and everyone like him (that's to say, human
beings) will lose.  Hands down.  Without morality, the human race will lose

Yes, a new coalition needs to be built.  It will include many unusual
partners.  In particular, some who used to be called "conservative" will be
joining hands with some who used to be called "liberals."  I tend to think
that the dividing line will be turn out to be between the Realists and the
Utopians.  And, the main issue dividing them will not be crypto-law or
e-voting or universal access to the Net; it will be about the moral
implications of human genetic cloning.

Two of the smartest people who I've ever found on these matters were C.S.
Lewis and Norbert Wiener.  In his 1947 essay, "The Abolition of Man", Lewis
points out that when (not if) we master the technologies to "design"
individuals, we will "design" away their humanity if we have abandoned
morality (which he calls the "Tao") in society.  Wiener pointed out (in his
1950 book, "The Human Use of Human Beings" and again in his last work the
1963 book, "God and Golem, Inc.") that we are locked in a struggle between
computers and humans which can only be won by the humans if we focus
society's energy on educating that quality which defines our humanness --
the ability to make moral judgements.  Same message from two wildly
different people.  Both correct.  Both largely forgotten -- until now.

The Utopians wish to replace humanity with a better engineered "product." 
They will sell their efforts to "improve" humanity by talking about longer
life, less disease, less violence and better behavior.  The Realists know
that this is lie.  That's why they oppose each other.

If you can put globalization, "open societies", media cartelization,
free-trade, electronic democracy, crypto-regulations, religious
fundamentalism, John Barlow's assertion that what is really happening is
"the shift from monotheism to pantheism almost overnight" and what you
dream about at 5 in the morning in this context, then you will be ready for
the political re-alignment which is already forming.  Otherwise, it's
likely to be pretty confusing.

Mark Stahlman
New Media Associates
New York City
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