Political Economy by Any Other Name Is Apparently a Fresh, New Idea

Perhaps this is nothing new, but I’m starting to really notice a severe lack of awareness of critical traditions within the A-list blogosphere/digerati culture.

Back in March, Andrew took note of a proposal to create a new “interdisciplinary discipline’ of Critical Information Studies, which he concluded, “sounds very like the areas covered by Political Economy of media.” The original proposal was floated by cultural historian Prof. Siva Vaidhyanathan, and picked up by BoingBoing.

Today I’m reading BoingBoing myself and find a post about the political disenchantment of Mitch Kapor, the original designer of Lotus 1-2-3. And what is his insight?

I’ve become completely convinced that we need to begin a process of fundamental political change in the U.S., not in the form of a new party per se as a new multi-faceted movement of ideas, organizations, and cultures, based around a vision of democracy which is fundamentally open, participatory, and decentralized.

Wow? Really? Open, participatory democracy? Them’s some pretty radical ideas there.

Please forgive my sarcasm, but I guess what annoys me most is not that Kapor’s unoriginal. It’s that now when these critiques come out of the mouth of the digerati it’s like they’re heretofore unseen insights about the political condition. And the a-list bloggers that spread the word seem equally ignorant of the critical tradition of the last 150 years as explored and explicated by scholars, activists and radicals.

Kapor follows up with his analysis that “Politics is Architecture:”

When it comes to building a new movement, the converse proposition, “politics is architecture” holds true as well. The architecture (structure and design) of political processes, not their content, is determinative of what can be accomplished.

Can someone please hand this man some Weber, Marx or Chomsky books (or Cliff’s Notes of them)?

I guess I should be at least somewhat happy that a central argument of Political Economic analysis comes so obviously and without apparent precedent to someone who sort of comes from the business side of the internet universe. But the failure to historicize these ideas, or even attempt it, does a disservice to all. Both because it fails to make linkages with vibrant movements that are taking concrete action this very moment, and because it threatens to create another instance of reinventing the wheel.

Even if we just look within the young world of the blogosphere there are thousands (if not millions) of bloggers like me who have been punching away at the modern political economic machine from a critical perspective, be it reformist, socialist or anarchist. We’ve been criticizing the very structure of western capitalist governments, the collusion of elected representatives and industry, and the myth of the free market, obeyance to which devolves into corporate oligarchy.

This isn’t a matter of sour grapes — I’m quite well aware that my own critiques are built upon a strong foundation of thought and scholarship that I have read and studied for the last sixteen years or so. I may have the occasional insight that I think is an original moment of praxis or synthesis. But under no circumstance do I presume that I’m knitting newly developed ideas about the modern capitalist state.

And if Kapor’s recent revelations are your first introduction to these ideas, then I’m glad you’ve also stumbled onto my words here. My advice is that you take a moment or more to read and understand other similar perspectives, and especially look into the field of Political Economy which has been addressing these fundamental problems for a very long time.




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