norayoung.ca | At the Corner of Technology and Culture

Digital Maoism Redux

My friend Alok Yadav sent the comment below after hearing Jaron Lanier being interviewed on CBC. He makes an excellent observation, I think, and one that I don’t think I’ve heard any of Jaron’s respondents make. Of course, Lanier’s had to do an awful lot of heavy lifting with just one article, an article which I think he must have mostly intended as a bit of a polemic.

“I share some of the concerns he expressed
about “individuality” (or as you put it more precisely, about individual
voice and point of view), but it did seem odd to me that he poses only
two framing options, individuality (independent-mindedness) and mob
mentality, almost in a High Victorian “culture-and-anarchy” mode.
Moreover, much of his later discussion turned on a distinction between
a positive kind of community or social dynamic and a negative kind of
social dynamic (not on a simple, direct contrast between individualism
and group-think). Your question about an overly romantic conception of
individual genius seemed very much to the point to me. Lanier’s praise
about Toronto’s multiculturalism (versus a melting-pot model) underlines
this issue, since what’s going on there is a multiplicity of
“communities” sustaining individual diversities (and hybridities) rather
than simply an abundance of diverse individuals. Lanier raises
interesting issues, but to my mind his conceptual schema for thinking
about those issues is much too reductive and could usefully be enriched
by thinking about the manifold ways in which individuals exist only as
embedded nodes and agents within social groups, cultural communities,
social structures, and various kinds of networks of exchange and
interaction with other agents. A bit more sociology, in other words,
would make his discourse less liable to a romantic fetishization and
mystification of individuality and individualism.”

Comment Pages

There are 1 Comments to "Digital Maoism Redux"

  • Bob says:

    Your friend has some good ideas, but I always recommend getting your stomach pumped after you’ve swallowed a thesaurus.

    So glad to hear you back on national radio, Nora Young. You’re missed by many.

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