March 07, 2013

Cal Dems, if Gavin Newsom is the future, you're headed to #Farmville hell

Gavin Newsom/Wikipedia photo
Apparently Newsom, now the Light Gov. of the Leaden State, has written something that he would call a "book."

And, Evgeny Morozov has shown just how idiotic he is, and in the process, reminded me that neoliberal geek politicians ought to be forcibly banned from using cyberproducts. (That's you, 44@1600, aka Dear Leader, I'm talking about.) He's also, per his Wikipedia bio, slick enough to have suckered Gordon Getty, of J. Paul Getty heirdom, to have financed a bunch of his business ventures.

Apparently, Newsom thinks the "wired" political world should be something like Farmville, the mindless Zynga game on Facebook. (Note: It's not mindless enough; Zynga stock has tanked in recent weeks.) More on this below, with comment from Morozov.

The takedown starts here, though, with references to the Aspen Institute and neolib forrunners of the man who once, and perhaps still, would be "The Gavinator":
Written in bombastic but wooden prose, this lazy tome of techno-populism consists of random entries from Newsom’s busy calendar (“Early in 2012, I spent a weekend at the Aspen Institute, discussing ideas about leadership and governance”), shameless name-dropping mixed with pseudo-intellectual gibberish (“as Abraham Lincoln used to say”; “David Cameron . . . described his own vision of a peoplecentric new era in a 2010 TED talk”; “social media, Al Gore told me, is a ‘saving grace for democracy’”) ...
Ahh, sounds like fun. Is it really that bad? Morozov says yes, and from the start:
Newsom’s intellectual plans unravel in the book’s very first paragraph, as he airs the profound question that prompted him—or perhaps his ghostwriter-cum-collaborator Lisa Dickey—to lift a pen (or iPad stylus) and start writing. “Over the past several years,” he notes, “I’ve found myself wondering: Why is it that people are more engaged than ever with each other—through Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, text messaging—but less engaged with their government?” Just a tiny hint from his publisher could have saved Newsom from composing this disaster of a book: Pinterest is more fun when used to alert buddies to funny pictures of cats than to liaise with anonymous government bureaucrats. Yes, it’s really that simple.
Morozov is actually charitable by crediting Newsome with "intellectual plans." There's more charity here:
Newsom’s political philosophy is the wisdom of crowds in action; most inanities in this book belong to someone else.
As I tweeted Morozov: If Newsom spouts the inanities long enough, he "owns" them himself.

But, the meat starts here, as Morozov exposes Newsom for being what most "neoliberals" really are — libertarians:
Newsom wants “people to bypass government” and “take matters into their own hands.” In a typical, Lincolnesque passage, he writes that “we have to disenthrall ourselves . . . of the notion that politicians and government institutions will solve our problems. . . . We have to be prepared to solve our own problems.” In short, we’ll all be like New Yorkers after Hurricane Sandy—only with better Wi-Fi coverage.
Margaret Thatcher would surely approve of Newsom’s message. So would David Cameron. In fact, many of Newsom’s proposals simply rehash Cameron’s idea of “the Big Society,” whereby instead of relying on the government to fix potholes in their neighborhoods, citizens are expected to do everything themselves, for the government has been starved to death and can’t do those things anyway. But since Newsom serves all these ideas under the spicy sauce of social media and technological progress, the underlying libertarianism of his program is far less visible.
Oy, at least. Morozov cites other ideas from the book that he notes generally support the idea that Newsom is a libertarian.

But, it gets worse. Newsom descends into what sounds like parody if it weren't so, er, "ernest," per one of Newsom's heroes, Al Gore.

First, the promised Farmville angle:
Newsom is impressed with online games such as FarmVille, in which players manage virtual farms and earn digital cash. For him, it’s the right model for getting people to care about local politics. “Instead of taking care of a fictional farm, why can’t we create a game in which you take care of your actual neighborhood or your town?” he wonders. Newsom is particularly excited about the possibility of rewarding citizens with virtual points—redeemable for real products or cash—for their good behavior.
Ugh. Just ugh. And that's putting it politely for now.

A very snarky take from Morozov gives us a very snarky take on where that could go.
Citizens, rejoice: Thanks to your smartphones, you can earn points—“innobucks”—for fixing those potholes (“Innobucks is like Angry Birds, but for democracy”). And, if Progress permits, soon you’ll be able to manufacture the tools for road repairs right inside your bedroom—just leave your 3-D printer on.
Friend Leo Lincourt says what's to stop Asian and East European hackers from creating fake "innobucks"? Or, I wonder, websites advertising for such things.

Even more, I wonder, what's to stop private prisons from renting out inmates to earn innobucks? Or private road companies to go raiding California farms for illegal immigrant day labor to the same end? Hell, the Silicon Valley that a lot of white Democrats in California love to fellate has a history of bad-to-horrible anti-labor stances.

Speaking of Silicon Valley, let's add this snark from Morozov:
Newsom has produced enough sound bites here to fill a TED talk (“One-way is dead”; “This is the age of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube”; “The future is sharing”; “PDF is a horse and buggy in a racecar world”).
Wow. I'm in awe of such bullshit in the guise of "brilliance."

Anyway, this is just a sampling of a book that Morozov has saved me from reading.

In short, libertarianism in Democratic drag, married to geekdom, is horrible. Regular readers know I generally thing Morozov is spot-on on his analysis of cyberworship in general. Morozov calls the marriage "vulgar and myopic utilitarianism." Sounds about right.

And people still wonder why I vote Green when I can?

Dear Leader must be jealous he hasn't thought of this at the federal level. Or, maybe he has? Isn't this same thing, on a much more mild level, the idea behind electronic patient records in Obamacare and how much money they'll allegedly save?

Good fucking doorknob, if this is the future of the national Democratic Party, poor to lower-middle-class, or even straight middle class, voters of all ethnicities, you need to stop pulling the "D" lever. I'm telling you.

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