The Skeptic and the Snark, Research Time, 02/02/2017

The Skeptic and the Snark are, of course, the same person. But they don’t have to be.

I’m talking about another book I’ve started reading lately, To Save Everything Click Here by the Stanford researcher Evgeni Morozov. Steve Fuller sent me a copy last year, and I’m only getting around to it now.

Morozov is a theorist of contemporary technology, and he’s written a nicely thick, comprehensive, critical, but accessibly written book about the Silicon Valley messiah complex.

There’s plenty to criticize in Silicon Valley, of course. But at the heart of all the specific idiocies and crimes of the culture is its pervasive arrogance and egotism. Mike Judge’s Silicon Valley is probably the best skewer in the comedy world. And Morozov’s book strives for the same insight in philosophical rhetoric.

Evgeni Morozov
Click Here offers a pretty comprehensive catalogue of contemporary literature boosting Silicon Valley culture’s core idealism – that a better life is a more efficient life, and that algorithmic, data-based analytics technology can build that better life.

The core of his own argument isn’t necessarily to offer a new alternative. And it isn’t to be a total techno-phobe either.* Morozov presumes to speak for the mainstream cultural instinct – that you can’t reduce humanity’s ethical existence and power of moral judgement to quantitative data analysis or technological controls.

* Even though he’s often so snarky toward his targets that he could easily be mistaken for a militant anti-technologist. Yet Ted Kaczynski himself writes with a chilling, calm frankness.

He identifies the ethical flaw of Silicon Valley’s utopianism of a perfectly efficient world as an undeserved arrogance in prescribing an entirely different moral principle to organize human society. Replacing responsibility with efficiency.

I think I may hammer out these thoughts in a little more detail tomorrow. At the moment, I’ve had a long day, and I’m too tired to get into the complexity of this idea. And it’s very complex.

Different examples Morozov explores in the book describe different aspects of this moral switch. And Morozov’s overall theme is two-fold.

First: Efficiency is a practically worse moral principle for people to adopt than our traditional morality of personal responsibility for yourself. Second: Silicon Valley utopians don’t deserve the power over the core principles of popular morality.

And I think you can reverse the order of those principles with no change in the effect. More detail tomorrow.

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