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362 pages, Kindle Edition
First published June 2, 2014
The failure of government isn’t a failure of democracy, but a consequence of the heroic claims of modern government, and of the constantly frustrated expectations these claims have aroused. Industrial organization, with its cult of the expert and top-down interventionism, stands far removed from the democratic spirit, and has proven disastrous to the actual practice of representative democracy. It has failed in its own terms, and has been seen to fail, and it has infected democratic governments with a paralyzing fear of the public and with the despair of decadence.You can see why I love this guy! But he really reeled me in with an unexpected detour into the realm of my 2017 reading theme on the "Integrity of Western Science." Here's Gurri on the state of modern science:
Much has been claimed for the scientific method, but the only method to which all scientists subscribe is the peer review process. It too has been under strain. Peer review presupposes the existence of independent-minded experts who evaluate manageable data sets. Often, in the age of the Fifth Wave, neither condition applies. Scientists today work in teams, and the subject matter can be so specialized that only a handful of individuals will be able to understand and review the literature. Authors and reviewers can trade places in a chummy circle of mutual admiration and protection. In extreme cases, this constriction of knowledge leads to what one analyst has called “research cartels,” which actively stifle minority or unorthodox views... The peer review process, relic of a simpler time, has thus become progressively less able to guarantee the integrity and legitimacy of research in many fields of science.Am I dreaming? Pinch me! Martin Gurri, you get me. For those paying attention, there are even whispers of Moldbug in here. Does this sound like "The Cathedral" to you?
Vast amounts of money have been poured into science and technology research and development: around $400 billion in the US alone for 2009. The price of affluence has been the centralization and institutionalization of research. An iron triangle of government, the universities, and the corporate world controls the careers of individual scientists... Government favor is the single most important factor in science research today. It’s disingenuous to imagine that such favor would be granted without considerations of power and political advantage.This book is a masterclass on the sources of legitimacy in our social institutions and Gurri's analysis is devastating. He's got these incredible lines like "Uncertainty is an acid, corrosive to authority," and:
The word “progress” itself has become impolite, an embarrassment. Nobody has a clue which way that lies.Gurri leads us pretty far into the desert. Does he give us any hope of escape or survival? Well, this is the best he's got:
The quality that sets the true elites apart — that bestows authority on their actions and expressions — isn’t power, or wealth, or education, or even persuasiveness. It’s integrity in life and work. A healthy society is one in which such exemplary types draw the public toward them purely by the force of their example.Sounds a bit like motherhood and apple pie to me, but I suppose he's not wrong. In any case, this book is required reading if you're trying to understand our moment in time.
"The physical structure of the Internet presents a suggestive story about the concentration of power - it contains "backbones" and "hubs" - but power on the Internet is not spatial but informational; power inheres in protocol. The techno-libertarian utopianism associated with the Internet, in the gee-whiz articulations of the Wired crowd, is grounded in an assumption that the novelty of governance by computer protocols precludes control by corporation or state. But those entities merely needed to understand the residence of power in protocol and to craft political and technical strategies to exert it."