[iDC] "recursive publics"

Michael H Goldhaber michael at goldhaber.org
Sun Jul 12 16:58:36 UTC 2009

Christopher, I find your thoughts about recursive publics fascinating.  
But one thing I do not understand  is the meaning of the quote of you  
by Jodi Dean to the effect that the so-called geeks are trying to  
"save capitalism from capitalists;" can you explain what this means?  
Are not capitalists integral to capitalism? Is it not essentially a  
hierarchical system in which reinvestment decisions are made by a  
small group? (I assume that capitalism without capitalists would not  
be synonymous with anything like "state capitalism" which is how  many  
socialists have described the Soviet Union.) Perhaps you could point  
to a text where you explain this.


Michael H. Goldhaber

michael at goldhaber.org
mgoldh at well.com
blog www.goldhaber.org
older site, www.well.com/user/mgoldh

On Jul 11, 2009, at 10:21 PM, Christopher Kelty wrote:

> On Sat, Jul 11, 2009 at 9:55 AM, Dean, Jodi <JDEAN at hws.edu> wrote:
> >Christ says
> thank you :) many people confuse the flowing robes and big beard,  
> but I'm just a regular underpaid academic.
> I do not think that the market is an instrument of justice. In fact,  
> I would say that the claim that the market is an instrument of  
> justice is a political claim and moves the discussion into a  
> political terrain. Again,
> questions of justice are political/moral claims.  My own view is  
> that markets are terrible mechanisms for 'making hard decisions  
> about allocation amongst hetereogeneous desires'-- primarily because  
> they begin from
> self-interest rather than collective interest (but that's only one  
> of many reasons--include also inequality, exploitation, short-term  
> mindsets, boom-bust cycles and instability, monetarization of basic  
> goods/needs, etc).
> i guess i agree with you here, since that would also be *my* view.   
> However, what I think is irrelevant-- what I'm trying to elaborate  
> is the way free software is tied to and made possible by practices  
> and ideals derived from this tradition; and to do so means taking  
> that tradition seriously.  Free Software is not a practice that  
> relies on markets of the kind we currently have in the world--it is  
> also critique of them.  Your position is one I would call  
> revolutionary (i.e. markets of any kind are no good for justice);  
> that of some, perhaps most, of the Free Software geeks is  
> reformatory (i.e. the markets we have today are bad versions of  
> something which could be better for justice).
> At this point, I don't find the term recursive publics useful. I  
> reviewed Warner's book a number of years ago and have a critique of  
> his use of publics. My book Publicity's Secret goes through the  
> Habermasian
> version of the concept and criticizes that. What's particularly  
> fascinating in Chris's version is the way that a 'mindset' shared by  
> a group of technocrats who are not accountable to anyone but  
> themselves can somehow position itself as a 'public', presumably  
> carrying with it the moral/political connotations from the 18th  
> century. This is alarming in part because this group/mindset is pro- 
> capitalist yet positions itself as somehow
> neutral.  (Fred Turner's critical approach to the rise of  
> cyberculture provides an important contrast to the kind of account  
> Chris gives).
> I call them a public, a recursive public, as a way of trying to say  
> what makes free software distinctive.  No geeks or hackers refer to  
> themselves this way, save the 2-3 who have read my book.  In  
> addition, they are not technocrats, by any definition of that term.   
> What's more, whatever power they have is mind-bogglingly small  
> compared to that of, say, big pharma, or big content, or big energy,  
> or indeed big finance.  While it's important to recognize the extent  
> of the success of free software, you are making it out to sound like  
> some hidden cabal of super-powerful, auto-legislating, hubris-laden  
> ideologues.  They're *geeks*-- they enjoy a quiet weekend watching  
> the new star trek and thinking  about dynamically scoping variables  
> for god's sake...  The people fred turner writes about, by contrast,  
> do have more cultural power, to be certain... but his excellent book  
> is not about free software.  I would venture to say that most free  
> software geeks are appalled by the kind of drumbeating people like  
> Kevin Kelly or Chris Anderson do these days... but unless we can  
> actually make these distinctions, it seems pointless to argue about  
> wether or not to be for or against them.
> ck
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