Tom Lord on Evgeny Morozov’s recent work

My buddy Tom Lord made an interesting comment on Facebook and I’m reposting here as I might want to refer back to it later:

Thomas Lord:

Morozov’s self-awareness; he tweets:

<< Me: The “Emperor” wears no clothes! “The Emperor”: But have you
done anything useful to say that? And doesn’t it serve us well to
pretend? >>

Of course, Morozov doesn’t mention that “the emperor” here is also
saying “Even so, what are you going to do about it? Hey everybody,
this Morozov is just a Mr. Negativity wanker!”

He’ll be permanently unable to reason with them and his present
experiments are an exercise in trying to reason past them.

Dave Crossland More Oreally debacle? []
Thomas Lord It’s a much larger project he’s got going.
Dave Crossland Summary?

Thomas Lord:

It’s problematic to make the following distinction but for sake of
summary his project can be split into two parts: an intellectual
project and a political action heavily rooted in realpolitik.

The intellectual project is pretty straightforward:

There are various related, mutually-sympathetic contemporary
discourses about “technology”, “the internet”, “open”, and so forth.
When I say “there are” these discourses — you have to understand
these in their specificity primarily: Where they are, in whose mouths,
and what functions they are performing in the order of things. Morozov
is contending to establish some generalizations we can make about this
discourse and he’s doing so by looking at specific cases and finding
commonalities, lines of transmission, interesting shifts in discourse
and so forth.

As a schematic example of what is at stake (my example, not his)
you can trace pretty direct lines between O’Reilly, Esther Dyson, many
others … and the Obama administration’s approach to health care
reform. Similarly, in that O’Reilly piece, Morozov notes O’Reilly’s
fairly direct influence over the Obama administration’s approach to
government “transparency”. My example, again: The Lt. Governor of
California has recently published a book and is on an informal
speaking tour basically parroting O’Reilly, promoting the vision of
“government as platform”, etc.

The intellectual part of Morozov’s project is to note these
inter-twined “conversations”, examine their structure, and critique

Critiquing that discourse as if it were intended to be rational
discourse is a bit like shooting ducks in a barrel. Therefore, Morozov
tries to at least to do a very thorough job. For example, when he
boasts of having read pretty much every word O’Reilly has published or
video of himself on youtube, I believe that’s roughly true.

In any event, the intellectual project is carefully analyze that
discourse and critique it in ways that are relevant to the real-world
effects of that discourse.

The other part of Morozov’s project — the one I called a
“political action heavily rooted in realpolitik” — is much harder.

The kind of intellectual critique I described above is fairly easy
and it is also fairly easy for people like O’Reilly and Dyson to, as a
class, ignore and even bury. One of their “go to” strategies when they
can’t avoid confrontation with the critique is just what I mentioned:
the fiat declaration that their critic is must a mr. negativity, not
looking for the societal win-win but only to tear down others.

Morozov’s political action project is to try to use his standing
in the world (e.g., where he can get published) to overwhelm those
anti-intellectual lines of defense deployed by people like O’Reilly,
Wu, ESR, Doctrow, Shirkey, etc.

He’s trying to make it impossible for them to keep speaking the
way they do in these matters, to the people they usually speak that
way, without beginning to provoke laughter from the audience.

And he’s trying to popularize a mode of critique and analysis that
is really insistent on grounding things in specificities rather than
insisting first and foremost on ideological abstractions.

His success is by no means guaranteed but he’s gotten farther than
I would have expected.

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