vol.6, no.1, (March 2000)


Takis  Fotopoulos'  Reply to ‘Roadgrading Community Culture: Why the Internet is so Dangerous to Real Democracy’ 



Matt Hern and Stu Chaulk point out, with reference to my article on science and technology  (D&N, vol 4 no 1, pp. 54-86), that:

Takis is surely correct when he writes "... a democratic science and technology  presupposes an inclusive democracy" but the reverse is entirely true as well...  A democratic science and technology and a democratic society require one another.

Of course, I would have no objection to agree with the part of the above statement which affirms that a democratic science and technology (i.e. one controlled by the body of citizens) and a democratic society require one another. In fact, I allotted almost twenty per cent of the space allocated to my article (pp 80-86) to an analysis of the characteristics of a democratic science and technology, which I see as a necessary component of an inclusive democracy. However, the authors go a step further and, starting from the fact that as they stress some tools are worth preserving and might potentially be of use to a genuinely democratic society, they attempt to put forward ‘a view of technology and society in dialectic relationship with one another, suggesting that democratic tools and a democratic society rely on one another for their emergence’. But, the fact that some of the present tools are worth preserving in a democratic society (a point I also stressed in my article —see pp. 82-83) does not mean that a democratic technology could emerge within the present undemocratic society. The view that the democratic, or alternatively, authoritarian nature of tecnology is the outcome of some inherent characteristics of technology is not compatible with the democratic project which sees the nature of technology determined by  the power relations implied by the socio–economic framework and the associated dominant social paradigm. Classical libertarian thought has also been in agreement with this view of the nature of technology. If therefore the authors agree with this view then the emergence of a democratic technology, within an undemocratic society like the present one, is an impossibility. In this sense, although it is true that ‘a democratic science and technology and a democratic society require one another’ and that ‘a democratic science and technology presupposes an inclusive democracy’, the reverse, contrary to what the authors state, is definitely not true. In other words, it is the change in power relations that would lead to a change in technology towards a democratic technology and not vice versa.

So, the real issue is not whether I recognise the interaction between a democratic society and a democratic science and technology (which obviously I do) but whether a democratic science and technology can emerge within the present institutional framework or not. The thesis I tried to support was that a democratic science and technology cannot emerge in an institutional framework of concentration of political and economic power, like the one created by the present institutional framework of the market economy and representative democracy. Still, although the authors seem to agree on this point (‘fundamentally, we do not believe that a democratic science and technology can exist for long within a capitalist society’), they seem to contradict it when they stress that:

We are, however, insisting that social and cultural criteria be used to evaluate new tools and their effects on the deepest and most valuable aspects of human relationships.  We are insisting that the insatiable need for speed exemplified by the automobile and Internet be carefully limited and that the social degradation virtuality carries with it be resisted. 

But, unless the authors believe that the emergence of a democratic science and technology is not impossible within a capitalist society, what is the point of discussing criteria to evaluate new tools? Just to find out in advance which ones we shall preserve in a future society? Furthermore, what is the point of their call to limit the need for speed (exemplified by the automobile and internet)? Do they really believe that this is possible in present society, with no change in power relations and structures, as the wishful thinking of mainstream Greens implies?

In fact, the authors show a further sign of confusion on the matter when they characterise as a ‘chicken-and-egg argument’ the crucial question whether it is the market economy which is the root cause of our social/ecological crises, or, instead, the current industrialism or technology. But, it is  the answer to this crucial question which defines the difference between the deep ecology viewpoint, which sees the industrial culture as the main cause of the present crisis, the environmentalist viewpoint, which blames the wrong technologies, and a libertarian viewpoint, like the one supported by the Inclusive Democracy project, according to which it is the system of the market economy that is the ultimate cause of the crisis and not the industrial culture, science and technology which represent only the effects of the system’s logic and dynamic. This is because it is the former which conditions, in a decisive way, the present culture, science and technology and not the other way round. In other words, while it is true that it was the rise of the market economy system and its dynamic which led to the present type of industrial culture, as well as the kind of technologies we use and the form of institutions we have (WTO etc), the opposite is not true. But, this is obviously not clear to the authors when on the one hand they declare (correctly) that technology is not neutral and that ‘the root cause of the ecological crisis is capitalism’ and in the same sentence they stress (incorrectly) that:

at the edge of the millennium, the logic of growth and its technologies are indistinguishable:  they are one and the same.  Global village logic, colonialism, the death of democracy, the peril of community, the rise of virtuality... these cannot be separated easily.  They feed and build on one another.  The Internet is to communicative life what globalisation and the WTO are to economic life.  They are part and parcel of the same process, the same logic and they rely on each other to flourish.

However, to maintain that the market economy, the logic of growth and its technologies are ‘one and the same’, simply confuses causes and effects. Furthermore, this is not just an ‘academic’ issue, as the authors seem to believe, because unless we know what the causes of the crisis are we cannot act to reverse them. This means, (and this is a crucial point to be stressed because it seems many anarchists today are not clear about it!), that the goal of a liberatory project today cannot just be to fight against the effects of the present socio-economic system (i.e. the institutions like the WTO  and technologies used, as well as the associated culture) as if a different set of institutions and technologies were feasible within the present institutional framework. The crucial point which characterises today a political project as a liberatory or a reformist one is whether its goal is respectively to challenge the system of the market economy itself or just its symptoms. Although fighting the symptoms of this system (together with mainstream Greens, liberals, social democrats etc), rather than the system itself, makes life easier for radical activists, such a stand does not help at all in creating a radical consciousness about the systemic causes of the crisis. And, I cannot see any other major objective for a liberatory movement in today’s world of utter confusion than to help in the development of such a radical consciousness, which is the necessary precondition for a systemic change.