Neo-Cybernetic Politics

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Theoretical Trends in Neo-Cybernetic Politics

By Anna-Verena Nosthoff and Felix Maschewski:

“Before we delve into the origins of cybernetics, a preliminary review of some of the most recent theoretical trends in neo-cybernetic politics is useful. We start with one of the most controversial figures. Political scientist and consultant Parag Khanna, a strong advocate of the ultimately cybernetic idea that connectivity per se is of intrinsic political and moral value, has most recently argued for what he terms ‘direct technocracy’. By this term, he refers to the intermingling of real-time information and an ‘info-state’, which is, for the most part, governed by non-party experts. Such ‘info-states’, the prior examples of which according to Khanna are Singapore and Switzerland, are driven by the ideology of supposedly ‘neutral’ pragmatism, with the only aim being to maximize efficiency. ‘In the long run, the quality of governance matters more than regime type,’ Khanna argues, believing that, ‘with good governance comes trust.’ Khanna’s book, Technocracy in America, was published just weeks after Trump’s election, a cleverly chosen moment to actively promote his tech-expertocracies alongside their presumably non-reactionary and, as he puts it, ‘non-ideological’ forms of anti-politics. The author is convinced that ‘America has more than enough democracy. What it needs is more technocracy– a lot more.’ Most dubiously, Khanna openly promotes not only Singapore but also China – which, as is known, has announced its ‘social-credit-system’ – as future role models for both the US and Europe. ­­­­

Khanna’s neo-cybernetic agenda can, in parts, be traced back to Tim O’Reilly, one of the first defendants of neo-cybernetic concepts. O’Reilly coined the term ‘algorithmic regulation’ around 2011 and ‘government as platform’ in 2010. Here, ‘regulation’ is in no way comparable to any traditional notion of government regulation; in contrast, O’Reilly’s aim is to replace regulation with reputation, that is, government with algorithmic regulation, such as with mutual ratings. For instance, he argues that services such as Airbnb and Uber can provide valuable models for providing maximum efficiency and oversight. Thus, according to O’Reilly, they do a great job ensuring quality and availability while ‘drivers who provide a poor service are eliminated’. Albeit O’Reilly is not as specific as Khanna on the countries that should serve as role models for proper neo-cybernetic politics, and seemingly envisions an agenda that is less state-centric than Khanna’s, he is equally focused on depicting the government‘s prior function as a ‘service provider’ while openly propagating to outsource most government activities to the private sector: ‘The whole point of government as platform,’ O’Reilly argues, ‘is to encourage the private sector to build applications that the government didn’t consider or doesn’t have the resources to create.’ This argument seems close to some suggestions by political scientist and ex-Obama-consultant Beth Simone Noveck, who is also a member of the ‘Digitalrat’ recently announced by the German Bundesregierung. Noveck repeatedly refers to corporate platforms – from LinkedIn to Facebook – when describing how the future of digital democracies should ideally appear.”