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November 3, 2006

Shilling for big tech companies =/= being pro-technology
Posted by Patrick at 08:40 AM * 47 comments

On BoingBoing, Xeni Jardin links to CNET’s so-called “Technology Voter Guide 2006”, and describes it as “comparing candidates’ tech voting records with their rhetoric.”

But by CNET’s own admission in their linked article (by Declan McCullagh and Anne Broache), their system for ranking lawmakers’ “tech voting records” gives lawmakers points for supporting a substantial list of big-business priorities, such as increased government handouts to high-tech corporations and further restrictions on the rights of individuals to bring lawsuits against them. It also gives the same lawmakers no points at at all for supporting net neutrality, because “that legislation has generated sufficient division among high-tech companies and users to render it too difficult to pick a clear winner or loser.”

It’s fine for CNET to advocate for the interests of corporate behemoths, and it’s hardly surprising to see Declan McCullagh, the guy who devised the libel that “Al Gore claimed to have invented the Internet”, drawing a paycheck for passing along this kind of spin. But it’s disappointing to see the usually sophisticated BoingBoing tacitly endorsing the idea that voting for big-business interests is the same thing as being pro-technology.

I’m sure Microsoft regards its insanely anti-user Vista EULA as “pro-technology,” too, but it would never occur to any of BoingBoing’s four editors to let them get away with such a claim. So why do the shopping lists of corporations get a pass just because someone slaps a “pro-technology” label on them? I don’t expect BoingBoing to be a shill for the Democratic Party, and goodness knows there are lawmakers in both parties with foolish views about tech-related issues. But transmitting this kind of propaganda isn’t an act of quirky techno-libertarianism; it’s just letting yourself be used by the Chamber of Commerce.

Comments on Shilling for big tech companies =/= being pro-technology:
#1 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 09:04 AM:

The line I cut from the main post: "I recognize that some of BoingBoing's editors are self-described libertarians. I just want them to be smarter libertarians."

#2 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 09:36 AM:

I think half the problem is that liberterians are always certain that they're smarter.

#3 ::: Edward Oleander ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 09:41 AM:

When I first began reading Heinlein as a preteen in the '70s, I immediately began calling myself a libertarian. I went from there to neo-con status before I got to high school (then grew up and became a liberal). In the past two decades I have noticed that those who call themselves "Libertarian" tend (roughly) to hold the same views I held after my conversion to Reagan Republican.

This trend, while not universal by any means, seems to be growing right through to this day. I began noticing that about ten years ago, many older libertarians began calling themselves "Classic Libertarians" to differentiate themselves from the modern conservative-in-libs-clothing libertarian. Today, I see both categories of libertarian appearing in those rate-yourself-politically questionnaires. I call myself an ex-classical libertarian.

Given all that, it is sad, but not too surprising, to see BoingBoing's spin twisting a little to the right. I hope it doesn't continue. Is it 2008 yet?

#4 ::: Edward Oleander ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 09:44 AM:

Good point, Xeger... I know I did. The Rugged Individualist types that are attracted to all forms of libertarianism almost always see their own viewpoint as "good 'ol common sense."

#5 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 10:11 AM:

In 1996, I did a lot of volunteering for Harvey Gantt, who was running against Jesse Helms for the Senate seat in North Carolina. I happened to live in the same town as the Libertarian party candidate, so we ran into each other at a lot of events; I even gave him a ride once.

On election day, sure enough, we ended up standing side by side at our precinct (right outside the "no electioneering" limit) handing out literature, and chatting in the slow points.

At some point, someone walked by with an unleashed dog. The Libertarian grew angry. "I used to be against leash laws until a dog bit me once."

Everyone's a libertarian until, you know, they decide they need the government.

#6 ::: Evan Goer ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 10:48 AM:

Ah, the familiar sinking feeling... reading a news story about some issue you already know a little something about. The methodology they used is hilarious.

McCullagh has always been an authoritarian-in-libertarian clothing. For the life of me, I have no idea why Lawrence Lessig, the Boing Boing crowd, etc. have ever taken him seriously.

#7 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 10:50 AM:

Most libertarians I knwo raise a much huger stink over money issues than they due over civil rights issues.

As most libertarians I meet are middle to upper class atraight white people, I tend to be susupicious of the motives they have. It's *easy* to vote for the guy giving you a tax cut who's also in favor of a constitutional ammendment against same sex marriage if you're straight. After all, what do you really loose?

I just wish libertarians would rename themselves "me-first-arians". It's be more honest

#8 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 11:28 AM:

"it is sad, but not too surprising, to see BoingBoing's spin twisting a little to the right"

I do feel obliged to remind the discussion that BoingBoing is written by several different people. The one I know best is Cory Doctorow, who I count as a friend, and Cory's political outlook is in no way even remotely right-wing.

Making Light's front-page posters encompass some political differences, too, it should hardly be necessary to point out.

#9 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 11:35 AM:

Isn't this just the computerized version of "what's good for General Motors is good for the country?" Where any opposition to a large-scale industrial project becomes opposition to Progress...and we all know that Progess is Good. It took me years to realize how wrong-headed this was, and my impression is that a lot of people with technical backgrounds still don't see why it's a problem.

#10 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 11:49 AM:

Xeni Jardin is a self-promoting suckup. In 10yrs she'll be the next Ann Coulter if someone doesn't stage an intervention. And for libertarians (or "glib"ertarians as atrios calls them), they've all been exposed by the bush admin as closet fascists. A libertarian who doesn't believe in habeas corpus doesn't understand the meaning of the word ...

#11 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 12:12 PM:

Alex Cohen... You made that up, didn't you?

#12 ::: Jon Sobel ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 12:14 PM:

The Libertarian grew angry. "I used to be against leash laws until a dog bit me once."

I underwent a similar conversion in re seat belt laws. I was opposed to them until I was in a really bad accident. I didn't change my mind because the seat belts saved our lives, although they probably did. I changed my mind because I observed the cost to society of my accident, and understood how much greater said cost would have been had we been killed or very seriously injured.

#13 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 12:22 PM:

Lee, I may disagree with one of her posts, but I really don't like your characterization of Xeni Jardin.

#14 ::: John From Uconn ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 12:38 PM:

In college, at least, a large portion of libertarians are best described as "pot-smoking Republicans".

#15 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 12:40 PM:

Xeni-bashing is so reflexive among internet hipsters that I'm surprised it took a whole ten comments.

#16 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 12:42 PM:

Alex Cohen... You made that up, didn't you?

I swear to God I didn't.

On the main topic, anyone who thinks Cory Doctorow is right-wing is clearly libertarian enough to be supporting some serious liberalization of the drug laws.

#17 ::: Edward Oleander ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 01:42 PM:

#8 PHN: I do feel obliged to remind the discussion that BoingBoing is written by several different people. The one I know best is Cory Doctorow, who I count as a friend, and Cory's political outlook is in no way even remotely right-wing.

If he calls himself a libertarian, it would make him a rare, but VERY welcome animal. And if he doesn't call himself a libertarian, he is still exactly the kind of influence the site needs to counter the me-first-ians (Thank you, Josh!) who follow the more common modern libertarian line.

Making Light's front-page posters encompass some political differences, too, it should hardly be necessary to point out.

It isn't. In fact, the reason (and I suspect I speak for most) I return here day after day is the balance between those differing views. We're generally a (properly by my view) liberal group, but with enough variance to keep the debates intelligent and lively.

I wasn't trying to imply that BoingBoing was going sour. It's only my hope they have enough moderation among their moderators to keep the type of libertarianism I dislike from taking over.

#18 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 01:54 PM:

Edward, it looks to me like this was a matter of Xeni seeing a web piece of possible interest to BoingBoing readers and posting it before thinking about it, not a matter of "twisting a little to the right".

It's hardly the first time that a BoingBoinger has linked before thinking, and it won't be the last. That goes with being a high-volume link-blogger.

#19 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 02:49 PM:

I think Avram has it. Reflexive posting of what looked like a valid election-time story.

I recently glanced through The Last Whole Earth Catalog (1971). WAY libertarian in outlook, if by libertarian you mean "advocating human liberty," and not corporate suck-ups with a property rights fetish.

#20 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 04:58 PM:

Yep, Avram's nailed it.

#21 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 05:14 PM:

Quite so. Nobody on BoingBoing, not even Mark Frauenfelder who actually describes himself as a libertarian, is actually a particularly good example of the pathologies of modern capital-L Libertarianism. And none of them deserve to be tarred as "me-firsters," honest.

There's certainly a strain of libetarianism in the tech world that fits the "me-firster" description. And BoingBoing is popular with lots of people in the tech world. But leaving aside the post I criticized, BoingBoing's actual content doesn't remotely fit the stereotype. All four of BB's editors are much too quirky and far too engaged with the real world.

#22 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 06:04 PM:

It's hardly the first time that a BoingBoinger has linked before thinking, and it won't be the last.

Like Mr. Doctorow every time anyone, anywhere speaks out against the current national/international IP system. The man's a great writer, and he's closer to right than wrong on this constellation of issues, but I don't think he advocates a worldwide abolition of trademark, patent, and copyright law.

I love bOingbOing. It's just that I often find that, as here, every time I get angry with it, I think it's because the posters have forgotten TNH's maxim, "Just because you're on their side doesn't mean that they're on your side.", and the corollary, "Even if they say they're on your side, it doesn't mean they are."

#23 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2006, 07:25 PM:

Boing Boing is not a very politically sophisticated blog (passing no judgement on its authors) so this does not surprise me.

It fits in with the gee-whiz technology is sure neat attitude of the site, which never seem to think about the context in which their neat gadgets fit or that new technology will be used.

Hence they can fall easily for things like this.

#24 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2006, 05:31 AM:

Martin, #23: I think you're not quite on the nail there. Boing Boing is very politically acute ... along a single dimension (Cory, and intellectual properly rights). But politics is multidimensional -- and I'm not talking that naive two-dimensional graph that libertarians are so fond of -- and on most if not all of the other political axes, Boing Boing is a wee bit thin.

#25 ::: Anon ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2006, 08:42 AM:

Y'all are blaming BB for a quickie blog post? That's a little silly.

Why not blame CNET and Declan? McCullagh has always been a Republican who claims he is a Libertarian, and of course any list he produces of tech-friendly politicians is going to mean "politicians who take bribes from the tech industry". That's the message that should be getting out.

#26 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2006, 09:38 AM:

Charlie, #24: yes, you're right on that.

Somewhat classical libertarian / tech nerd that, the intense focus on particular aspect of politics; it's also found in marijuana activists.

#27 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2006, 09:50 AM:

I know that Xeni is supposed to be the shallow "self-promoting" member of the BoingBoing crew -- like, um, Cory isn't self-promoting? And god bless him, I have nothing against self-promoting when the self deserves it -- but as long as we're talking about politics and BoingBoing, let's note that it's Xeni who's posted about the crackdown on the military blogs, and the fallout from the boarding pass generator, the scrutinizing and confiscation of laptops at the American border, the expelling of the UN's head of mission from Darfur, the Child Online Protection Act, the U.S. torture law, Lynne Stewart, the killing of people fleeing Tibet, the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, warrantless wiretapping.... That's just last month, will that do? And it's Xeni who posts Jasmina Tesanovic's writing.

#28 ::: Daniel Boone ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2006, 01:53 PM:

As an anarchist with strong social roots in the libertarian gun nut community, I'm going to make the mistake of responding to the suggestion by Lee that libertarians have "...all been exposed by the bush admin as closet fascists." (I say "mistake" because I think the comment in which this line appeared may have -- how can I put this delicately? -- been intended to generate heated response. So I'll make just one mild observation and then shut up about the subject.)

I'd say "all" is a gross over-generalization. A great many libertarians of my acquaintance are horrified by the post 9/11 increases in government power and decreases in government accountability. (I, myself, try not to use the "fascist" epithet for various reasons of poly sci accuracy and propagandistic efficacy, though it's been known to come out when you get me drunk enough.)

However, it's true, I'd say, that after 9/11 a substantial fraction of self-described libertarians hoisted the black flags of authoritarianism and militarism and sailed away from the libertarian harbors where they'd been used to hanging out. Which came as a rude shock and a terrible surprise to the remnants of the fleet.

#29 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2006, 10:01 PM:

"[...] hoisted the black flags of authoritarianism and militarism [...] Which came as a rude shock [...]"

Why, exactly? It was pretty clear to a lot of us outsiders that there were an awful lot of closet authoritarians who called themselves libertarians. Why didn't you-folk see the authoritarians for what they were? You had a lot a lot more contact with them.

On the other hand, it was very a pleasant surprise for me to see articulate anti-authoritarian figures like Jim Henley and Arthur Silber emerge from the movement--I'd suspected they were there, but I sure didn't know where they were.

#30 ::: Daniel Boone ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2006, 05:21 AM:

You-folk? Is that like the "you people" phrase that gets commenters chided by our gracious hosts when it's used in a tone that suggests "you godless commie liberals"?

Anyway, like I said, I'm an anarchist. To me, all libertarians look like they have a little bit of an authoritarian hangover, even the best of them. "We hate government, it's immoral and fattening, except for the few issues we rilly rilly care about the mostest, then we still need men with guns to make people do stuff our way." They want to bully other people around less often, whoopeee.

So, sorry, I can't tell you why "those-folk" (libertarians?) didn't see the authoritarians in their midst. I'll admit to being suspicious of your premise, though, that the closet authoritarianism of a libertarian fraction was clear to an unspecified group you call "a lot of us" back then. Libertarians as closet authoritarians, a pre-2001 meme? A few anarchists used to say things like that, but not "a lot" of anybody. I can't say I ever saw that meme circulating outside of anarchist circles before 2001.

#31 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2006, 12:07 PM:

Daniel Boone #28 wrote:
However, it's true, I'd say, that after 9/11 a substantial fraction of self-described libertarians hoisted the black flags of authoritarianism and militarism and sailed away from the libertarian harbors where they'd been used to hanging out. Which came as a rude shock and a terrible surprise to the remnants of the fleet.

I had thought that the black flag was associated with anarchism. The Spanish anarchosyndicalists flew a flag that was black (for anarchism) and red (for syndicalism).

#32 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2006, 02:01 PM:

Red and black? Well, that explains some things I've seen elsenet.

And, of course,

Oh, better far to live and die
Under the brave black flag I fly,
Than play a sanctimonious part,
With a pirate head and a pirate heart.
Away to the cheating world go you,
Where pirates all are well-to-do;
But I�ll be true to the song I sing,
And live and die a Pirate King.

#33 ::: Daniel Boone ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2006, 02:20 PM:

Er, I was using "black flag" in its traditional symbolic sense. Bad news, fell deeds, nasty pirates, death, decay, doom. You know, the stuff that's not good.

#34 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2006, 03:27 PM:

In case anyone else is interested, here's the red and black of the Spanish anarchist CNT/FAI (Confederación Nacional de Trabajdores / Federación Anarquista Ibérica, i.e. "National Workers' Union/Iberian Anarchist Federation):

http://www.crwflags.com/fotw/images/e/es%7Dcnt36.gif

#35 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2006, 04:55 PM:

"Libertarians as closet authoritarians, a pre-2001 meme?"

Most of the left who had any contact with them came away with that belief; it was really pretty obvious. Heck, supporting Reagan was a pretty clear give-away. It still suprises me that more libertarians, and more Americans generally, don't hate the man.

#36 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2006, 07:05 PM:

Daniel Boone #33: You said you were an anarchist, and thus confused me. Sorry.

Vicki #34: �UHP!

#37 ::: Daniel Boone ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2006, 08:04 PM:

No worries, Fragano. My anarchy doesn't have much in common with the European anarchosyndicalists, so I'm not as up on their symbolisms as perhaps I should be. I'm a sort of anarchist by default, of the old school Lysander Spooner variety; when you believe, as I do, that it's immoral to point guns at people in order to make them do anything except leave you the hell alone, you're an anarchist whether you like it or not, because every form of government boils down to the aforementioned gun-pointing, even the best of the libertarian minarchist utopias.

#38 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2006, 08:36 PM:

Sure, but anarchy then means giving the field to the most effective bunch of gun-toters. The type of anarchy you describe is an attempt to opt out; even if you succeed for yourself, it is at best taking no position at all so far as the governing of everyone else is concerned. In short, philosophically it's solipsism. You don't "believe" in anarchy, only in being left alone.

#39 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2006, 09:23 PM:

The black and red banner has been around for quite a while. Its use is even documented in popular musicals:

Red - the blood of angry men!
Black - the dark of ages past!
Red - a world about to dawn!
Black - the night that ends at last!
     (Les Miserables)

[must ... leave ... computer; ... work ... food ...]

#40 ::: Daniel Boone ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2006, 11:52 PM:

Scraps, I'm not focused on outcomes, because I don't believe that desireable ends can be derived by evil means. Government is an evil means, no matter how desireable its goals. You can't build good works with slave labor.

As it happens, I don't agree with you that my brand of anarchy "means giving the field" to anyone. But this is not the place for that discussion, so I'll say just this: Even if I did agree with you, it wouldn't change anything for me. Because for me, government is not a morally available tool.

Let justice be done, though the skies fall. Put down the tools of evil, then focus on the considerable challenge of forging a civil society without them. That's my approach. And yeah, I know it's a quixotic moral stance, but I can't in good conscience take any other, so here I stand, stuck with it.

You're not quite right, though, that I take no position on the governing of others. I think governing people is evil. That's a position.

#41 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2006, 01:20 AM:

Frankly, I don't read boingboing much anymore - and a lot of that is due to tedium with reading Xeni's incessent 'all-about-Xeni' posting. If she's broken that habit, more power to her.

I have even less patience with the high-tech brand of libertarianism the internet seems to enable. BoingBoing isn't a particularly virulent example of it, but its enough to be irksome...

Daniel Boone strikes me as being just plain physcotic. The purpose of government is to maintain a monopoly on force. Whatever institutions or organizations you care to believe in, they are all ultimately backed by force, or subject to whatever organizations are willing to employ it.

How is it immoral to choose a method of government to use force to protect ethical people from the unethical people who have no qualms about using force? Or is the only moral response to threat of force to lay down and die?

#42 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2006, 01:52 AM:

Uh-huh. But here's the problem. You can point your gun at people to make them leave you the hell alone. But they have guns, too. That's freedom, isn't it? So then it comes down to how many guns you have, how good they are, and how well you deploy, point, serve, supply, maintain and replace them, and make decisions over these complex matters, for which you will need the organised services of others, a chain of command, a hierarchy of tasks which will inevitably produce a hierarchy of position and authority. If you ain't got it, anarchist, you lose. If you do have it, anarchist, you lose.

Sorry. You lose.

#43 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2006, 02:11 AM:

Nothing like living where you can hear mortar fire, and have an occassional bad calculation drop a shell in the middle of Highway 510 (right next to the Nisqually fireworks stands, just before Independence Day, which added piquancy) to remind me that any gun a civilian can buy, and one person can stand and fire, is a pretty damned thin protection against a government gone bad.

#44 ::: Daniel Boone ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2006, 02:22 AM:

Fortunately, I didn't come here to argue anarchism. I'm not a preacher, I'm not trying to convince anybody. I only mentioned it in passing to explain how I came to know a bunch of libertarians, and expounded when somebody confused me with a bunch of crazy dead Spaniards.

The world is addicted to coercion at gunpoint. Trying to solve that with more coercion at gunpoint is like trying to fight fire with gasoline.

And that will be my last word on the topic in this space. Feel free to continue discussing my insanity and inevitable demise at the hands of violent thugs; while you're doing that, I'll go do something more useful, like target practice.

#45 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2006, 03:06 AM:

Ok then, you're off to target practice, but its the world thats addicted to coercion at gunpoint? Right ...

#46 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2006, 07:22 AM:

Daniel Boone: To call the Spanish anarchists 'crazy' seems to me rather unfair, and I am not an anarchist.

#47 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2006, 02:16 AM:

crazy dead Spaniards.

They were the best men in Europe when they died.

They died so that you could have little things, like democracy and justice. They died for the Spanish Republic, and not-being-Fascist.

I don't expect you to show gratitude -- after all, you never asked them to die for your freedoms.

But you could show some politeness.

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