I enjoyed writing the previous entry, yet wondered if it would garner any response. So far, not much. At the risk of losing my audience completely, let me revisit it.
The Question of Openness
But the radical openness question itself is an interesting one. Seeing Mosher as a proto-Assange and ourselves as an early victim of Wikeleakism scrambles the usual, straightforward alignment where all of us are arrayed in two angry clumps.
It’s clear that the most widely celebrated blog articles tend to be those that align with one of the clumps. My previous ambivalent piece on openness gets relatively little attention because 1) it’s not clear how the “sides” are arrayed on the issue and 2) I take an ambivalent position.
This is disturbing to me. I think cases where 1 apply are far more interesting than issue where they don’t. They are also healthier. If we can engage on matters where our positions are not predetermined by other positions, perhaps we can start to remember what a proper argument looks like.
On Being a Moderate in Radical Times
I am beginning to realize my core quandary as a writer. I am consistently cast as a radical when in fact I consider myself the most cowardly and contingent of middle-of-the-road liberals.
The facts on the ground are radical. Our adaptations to radical changes are of necessity going to be disruptive. It seems to me that given this inescapable fact, one should seek transitions that are as little disruptive of existing adaptations as possible.
People think I’m a radical because they think I advocate radical changes. But in fact I am a conservative. Changes terrify me; changes lead to mass hysteria which lead to dangers that aren’t limited to this side of genocide. My own life is, among other things, a story of a recovery from a genocide I never saw but which my parents barely escaped.
I do not advocate radical changes. The least radical changes I anticipate are pretty severe. I think we should try to optimize for the smallest adequate changes given that our current trajectory is massively unsustainable. I just don’t think we should pretend that business as usual is possible.
Some examples of things radicals want to change but I would leave more or less status quo:
Energy should be provided by giant corporations. Knowledge should be provided by universities. Public discourse should be organized by journalistic enterprises. Wealth should be primarily distributed through employment with a modest backstop from government. Government regulation should to some extent protect the interests of the least able, and should also design to allow for individual ambition, but protection of the interests of the powerful is also reasonable.
If huge changes were not being forced upon us by inescapable physical constraints, I might argue against any of those points, or countenance arguments against them. But we need to address our attentions to the places where very large adaptations are necessary. Land use, water use, energy use, infrastructure resilience and education are in need of massive reform. That’s plenty on our plates. Anything that can be patched together and kept in use ought to be, while we deal with our urgent issues.
If It’s Not Important, Why Think About It?
So, much though I understand and appreciate the motivations for open science, and much though I understand the pressures under which the scientific process operates, my argument is that I don’t see rushing to rock the boat in this direction as an especially urgent matter.
It comes from my sense of the current situation as an emergency. Given the rate of changes we face, I am reluctant to add additional changes to the mix.
Just the same I would like to engage the question, though. This is partly because I’m not sure my argument is convincing. Mostly, though, I find the topic interesting because it’s one where our pathetic and tedious polarization so far hasn’t kicked in. Most of McIntyres acolytes are right wingers, but the most cogent argument against radical openness, I think, comes from right winger Mark Halperin.
Maybe if we don’t know what we are expected to think about something, we can actually practice thinking, rather than team loyalty and rationalization? That would be worth something.