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Feb 27 2017

Elite Failure And The Anti-Democratic Equation

(T)he Anti-Life Equation is a formula for total control over the minds of sentient beings… (A) common interpretation is that the equation is a mathematical proof of the futility of living.

I highlight this a lot, but I’m not the only one and they keep failing. The thing abou being in the 99th percentile is that means 99% of people you meet are not like you at all.

Twilight of the Technocrats?
by Luke Savage, Jacobin
2.23.17

Even the most powerful algorithm cannot compensate for the flawed assumptions of its programmers. If the Ada fiasco is an indictment of data-driven politics, it is also a reflection of the values — and deficiencies — of the technocratic liberal ethos that spawned it.

More than perhaps any waged before, the Clinton campaign invested an inexhaustible faith (not to mention considerable financial resources) in the wisdom and effectiveness of experts, its upper echelons dominated by a generation of Democratic insiders steeped in Third Way thinking and analysis.

In word and affect, it spoke the language of white-collar professionals in New Democratic coastal heartlands and showed open disdain for some of the party’s traditional, less affluent constituencies and their aspirations. It eschewed the rhetoric of populist contestation in favor of bipartisan détente with factions in the Republican old guard and gleefully chased the votes of suburban conservatives. It publicly courted both Wall Street and Silicon Valley and proudly touted the support of their leading viceroys. It emphasized personality and qualification, judgment and temperament, over ideology. And had it prevailed as expected, it would have governed accordingly.

In the sum total of its posturing, strategy, messaging, and wounded bemusement in defeat, the Clinton campaign represented the apogee of the liberal center’s technocratic vision in all its shimmering hubris and ultimate, self-defeating futility.

And its loss has hardly been the only one of its kind. Across the advanced capitalist world, formations of both the center-right and center-left have been successively battered and handed a string of defeats at the ballot box.

Yet far from reflecting soberly on this near rout, or the failures that may have produced it, devotees of technocratic liberalism have rallied one after another to fortify their orthodoxies.

Senior Democrats like Nancy Pelosi insist that neither policy nor strategy need change and refuse to budge an inch to the economic left. Centrist dogmatists like Jonathan Chait earnestly cling to the exhausted maxims of the Obama era, even as its modest legacy crumbles before their very eyes. Tony Blair, apparently unchastened by any sense of shame, has mused about returning to British politics.

Finding themselves suddenly cornered, liberal technocrats have increasingly lashed out at mass democracy itself, blaming it for Trump’s victory and Brexit, and advocating its enfeeblement as a solution.

Reflecting this mood with unrivaled zealotry was Foreign Policy’s James Traub, who declared last July: “It’s Time for the Elites to Rise up Against the Ignorant Masses.” Casting contemporary politics as a struggle not between values or interests, but between “the sane” and “the mindlessly angry,” Traub called for a new centrist project consisting of breakaway chunks of the right and left to defend “pragmatism, meliorism, technical knowledge, and effective governance against the ideological forces gathering on both sides.”

Reflecting this mood with unrivaled zealotry was Foreign Policy’s James Traub, who declared last July: “It’s Time for the Elites to Rise up Against the Ignorant Masses.” Casting contemporary politics as a struggle not between values or interests, but between “the sane” and “the mindlessly angry,” Traub called for a new centrist project consisting of breakaway chunks of the right and left to defend “pragmatism, meliorism, technical knowledge, and effective governance against the ideological forces gathering on both sides.”

To Blair endorsing “what works,” we might reply: for whom? To what end? On the basis of which guiding principles?

This is the technocratic fallacy exposed.

Behind every political claim or prescription, no matter its source, lies a set of assumptions (conscious or otherwise) about what the horizons of politics are or what they ought to be. And more than anything else these assumptions, and the political narratives that follow, are shaped by the social and cultural outlooks of the people who hold them.

This is why, if we truly want to understand the politics of the technocratic liberal center, we need look no further than the milieu they emerged from.

“At last,” declared president-elect Bill Clinton in 1992, the Democratic Party is moving “beyond the old Left-Right debates of the past.” This was Clinton’s own “what works,” a pledge of fealty to a new era of Democratic politics that would supposedly shake loose the albatross of ideology once and for all.

As Lily Geismer has observed, the Democratic Party’s shift under Clinton was accompanied by the continued transformation of its New Deal voter coalition into one that elevated a new cohort of technocratically minded white-collar professionals over historic working-class constituencies.

While understanding the class origins of liberal technocracy goes some way to accounting for its politics, it does not on its own explain their flaws.

What, fundamentally, is wrong with appealing to expertise and evidence, especially over popular parochialism? Aren’t compromise and consensus always integral parts of collective decision-making? Doesn’t progress require pragmatism? And isn’t the best posture to assume in the face of rising right-wing populism one of inclusive moderation?

Apart from the one glaringly obvious response — that the designated experts in media, opinion polling, economics, and electoral campaigning have spent recent years being repeatedly and resoundingly wrong — the answer to all of these questions is that technocratic management and democratic politics can and never will be synonymous.

In the lifeworld inhabited by the new economic professionals invested in the technocratic consensus — be they managers, executives, or shareholders — there are always more or less consecrated rules of operation and an agreed-upon bottom line. The actors involved are, at least formally, equal in the pursuit of their own private interests in the capitalist marketplace. Ideology doesn’t appear ideological when the basic premises are more or less shared by everyone and work to advance collective interests (usually profit and growth).

As a result, politics can be conceived like a closed corporate system that exists simply to aggregate and broker between private interests, rather than a democratic locus of debate, contestation, and struggle. The very notion of appealing to evidence or expertise (“what works”) comes to mean deference to the ruling ideology and the class interests it reflects — pragmatism being merely the best course forward for both, and consensus something not to be built but protected. (Compare this to the ethos that produced socialist politics, born of trade unionism, which sought mass mobilization against embedded structures of power towards a common good.)

If all this goes some way toward explaining the increasingly shrill and anti-democratic reflexes of centrist technocrats in the wake of their recent defeats, it also demonstrates why their response to the resurgent right will never be adequate.

Faced with an authoritarian demagogue attacking a widely detested technocratic consensus, American liberals chose as their tribune a person more synonymous with it than any other on earth. Rather than contest his campaign with a compelling populist response of their own, they sorted the electorate into Good and Bad, sought accommodation and compromise, touted their candidate’s résumé and elite support, plugged the relevant numbers into a computer, and assumed that victory was inevitable.

In defeat they, and their equivalents elsewhere, continue to take refuge in the technocratic mantra that democracy itself is to blame for their predicament, and entrench themselves further in the very assumptions and beliefs that have led them to it.

But what is needed now is a broad-based project that seeks to reinvigorate democracy and contest the elitism of liberal technocrats alongside the authoritarian tendencies of the far right. Not a return to a technocratic center bent on pitting the righteous against the “deplorables” or the “sane” against the “mindlessly angry,” but an inclusive politics of solidarity and hope that mobilizes the oppressed and exploited and takes aim squarely at the exploiters.

You know, I’m not against smarts (I suffer myself) but this is not that. It’s instead a spasm of privilege and credentialism unjustified by results. It is the opposite of science and objectivity, faith based belief in theories that have been proven wrong and willful ignorance of the evidence which shows it. It is as stupid and self serving as Jerusalem centered Flat-Earthism and Global Warming Denial.

It will be the death of the Democratic Party.

1 comment

  1. ek hornbeck

    Vent Hole

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