Virtual smoke & mirrors
Many thanks for Emily White's revelatory piece on George Gilder of the Discovery Institute and his laughable army of old boys ("Techno-tyrants," 10/14). She has done a soldier's work for the cause of reality in a world rife with virtual smoke. Seattle often seems to be choking on it.
Some things never really change, after all. And that includes backward-thinking fellowships with bloated and bigoted white male "authorities" masquerading as "futurists." Puh-leez. Doesn't Gilder know the future is now? Maybe White's article will enlighten him. But probably it will just make him hate women more. Oh well.
I find it funny that what Gilder refers to as "catacombs" are just archives that any competent journalist would/must mine, and White did. Her sense of humor makes the delivery of her findings both accessible and bearable. I also admire her restraint. I'd have been outraged at that Y2K meeting.
TAMARA KAYE SELLMAN
I read Emily White's "Techno-tyrants" (10/14) piece twice, since I finished the first pass in a state of disbelief about how extremely angry Ms. White seems to be about, well, just about everything, from the quality of a congressman's hairstyle to the taste of her salad. Buried within this testy nitpicking of all and sundry is the germ of an idea that she does not like what others are discussing about our future; she cannot quite grasp or describe what it is they're talking about, but by golly it's probably evil. It's hard to take a position for or against Ms. White's view of the topic when she doesn't particularly have one of her own.
No one quote could quite sum up this rambling stream-of-consciousness tirade since so many topics go flying by, pausing only for a quick insult or two to be applied, but I had to smile at one in particular which illustrates the lack of thinking being expressed in general: "The Discovery Institute's literature features him prominently; on its Web site you can click into the Gilder archives—all George, all the time." Amazing: the George Gilder archive contains . . . George Gilder. Perhaps there will eventually be an Emily White archive, too, but it doesn't sound like she would want to let anybody in.
ANDREW C. GREEN
It has become a staple of Weekly articles that if the reader is at all familiar with the subject then a multitude of errors become glaringly apparent. In the case of Ms. Emily White's "Techno-tyrants" (10/14), there was hardly anything correct to be found.
One can argue about the tenor of George Gilder's arguments if one is familiar with them. Ms. White is not. His presumed sexist remarks were a critique of the hazards of children being raised without strong parental roles. That may have been a fringe topic twenty years ago but is of mainstream concern today. Similarly, Gilder's comments about race were equally misinterpreted.
She could have answered the waiter by saying that a think tank like Discovery assembles people to ask questions about the future. That is the essence of looking at the role of transportation in our region, or about how science is represented in education. There are fewer agendas here than meet the eye. Perhaps writing smarmy prose is an excuse for not doing research.
The article implies that an organization which is led by white males is necessarily bigoted. Ms. White nearly begins a useful line of questioning with "These guys aren't doddering, out-of-touch right-wingers." So, then who are they? That they go jogging says nothing. Were she to have inquired further as to what these faceless individuals want, perhaps it would have led to beneficial information.
Like most of their ilk, the interest of the backers and staff of the Discovery Institute is that a given organization's goals be nurtured by talented people. Color or gender is irrelevant, unlike under a "p.c." dogma where "diversity" is valued above talent.
Later in the article, she rants about an allegedly crass home-buyer. What this has to do with Gilder, Discovery, technology in general, or anything else is beyond me. Apparently this anecdote was burning a hole in her notebook. The article was a convenient outlet, no matter how poorly it fits.
Were Ms. White to delve into Discovery's projects, she would have seen provocative ideas unchained by ideology and dogma. Technology is inherently neutral. Humans have recognized this since the stone age. The manner in which new technologies are implemented makes the difference as to whether the benefits are distributed well. Those are the questions which Discovery investigates, not a bland cult of boosterism.
By the way, Newt Gingrich has never attended a Discovery function, George Gilder looks nothing like his caricature, and he doesn't smoke. Like I said, hardly anything was correct.
JANOS L. WIMPFFEN
In response to Emily White's fine essay "Techno-tyrants" (10/14): She is correct in depicting self-styled futurist George Gilder and followers as an insidious collection of reactionaries armed with the latest high-tech contraptions and seemingly drunk on a vision of technotopia. While there are surely other techno-enthusiasts who dissent from the rightward drift of Gilder and company, the conservative right constitutes a formidable component in the contemporary rush toward all things sleek, swift, and electronic. For some of Gilder's political brethren, the giddiness with which forecasts of machine evolution is embraced has become tantamount to a religious belief.
The politically conservative elements of this phenomenon are, I believe, quite easy to explain. The computer revolution of the past 10 years has generated billions of dollars; this has made a small portion of our overall population filthy rich. The acquisition of wealth, generally, has a very politically moderating effect on many of those who get rich. And the technology itself fits easily into the realms of high finance, trade, big business, and the military.
Gilder's own cozy relationship with Wired magazine is evident to anyone who reads that periodical. Wired is nothing if not a major propaganda sheet for business harnessed to the vertiginous whirl of ever more sophisticated machinery. And Gilder's characteristic arrogance is positively dwarfed by the opinions expressed by many individuals who have either written for Wired or who have been interviewed by the magazine. Artificial intelligence research scientist Hans Moravec, biophysicist Gregory Stock, and former Citibank chairman Walter Wriston are just three such individuals who come to mind on this score. These guys practically gush over the prospect of significant portions of humanity getting "left behind" by the technological juggernaut; in Moravec's case, he goes so far as to speculate that humanity may soon become extinct as machines evolve beyond our limited capacities, and he seems quite excited by the idea. Few of these folks seem very burdened by the question of democracy's fate in all this.
The history of speculation regarding the future of science and technology reveals a lot of silliness. Gilder's "telecosm" may prove to have been rather foolish decades from now. But tech-boosters of the conservative right need to be observed by all who believe that this world belongs to all people, not simply the rich and technologically sophisticated. Those of us who yearn for an inclusive future where democratic values thrive must take the arrogance of Gilder and his pals very seriously. Just because they're wrong, they are still rich, and therefore dangerous.
But back to the lunch
Is Emily White ("Techno-tyrants," 10/14) a racist? She sure writes like one: "where a bunch of white guys sit around and think very hard . . . ," "there are token women and blacks on the board. . . ."
If the members were all white, I guess it members were all minorities, I guess it would mean they're racists, and if there are any minority members in the group, I guess it would mean they're "tokens." If the would prove there was no racism at all. Are there any "token" blacks, women, Asians, or other minorities on the Seattle Weekly staff? It sure seems that way.
And if White is so critical of the quality of food served, maybe she should do your restaurant column or pack her own lunch. On the other hand, if the food served had been excellent, wouldn't have been because the Discovery Institute members are rich?
Send it to Bill
Emily White's erudite, insightful expose of George Guilder, techno chameleon ("Techno-tyrants," 10/14), is what makes journalistic excellence great: Intelligent, informative bashing of sacred cows—especially old, white, monied, sexist, racist ones. Someone should send a copy of his earlier books on female bashing (Sexual Suicide) and racism masked as social commentary (Visible Man) to Bill Gates and then request feedback from his techie God mentor!
Chicken or fish?
Your writer Emily White ("Techno-tyrants," 10/14) complains that the food we served at the one event she attended (as our guest, for free) before writing her article was, "dried-out fish that was caught a long, long time ago."
This hurt our event director's feelings. He wants Ms. White to know we served no fish that day, but rather chicken. We demand a correction. Can't the Weekly get anything right.
DIRECTOR PUBLIC & MEDIA RELATIONS
Having been at events on the future of Social Security with their communications director, Rob Crowther, and their former intern, Nick Slepko, I can honestly say that the Discovery Institute ("Techno-tyrants," 10/14) is neither as evil or as important as you make them out to be.
Thanks to Catherine Tarpley for her assessment of the upcoming WTO conference and its deleterious impact on homeless people ("W-T-wOes," 10/7). Despite the city's hemming and hawing, the homeless community has every reason to be nervous about potential sweeps intended to lock poor folks up, or at least move them out of sight and out of mind. The flood of arrestees that coincided with the APEC gathering held here in 1993 is concrete historical evidence of this municipality's capacity to get rough and tough with citizens of the street.
The advocacy group SHARE has a respectable track record when it comes to erecting and properly managing tent cities. It is ridiculous that our municipal officials would now give SHARE the cold shoulder when it is clear that the presence of the WTO participants, as well as those who will be here to demonstrate against the trade group, will exacerbate the already extensive squeeze on existing housing and shelter options for the poor. City officials would do well to begin working now with SHARE to implement an emergency tent city for the week of WTO events.
Aside from this immediate issue, the question of a permanent tent city remains a vital one. Homelessness is not going away, sadly, anytime soon. Ignoring options like those SHARE has raised is to dismiss concrete and immediate actions that could be endeavored presently while we all await more permanent solutions which lie far down the road.
Geov Parrish may feel better now that he's vented a bit on the WTO Seattle meeting (Impolitics, 10/7), but like much of the opposition I've seen so far to the meeting, there's no substance, just a lot of rhetoric to his complaints. So far, what I've seen from the opposition to WTO are plans for street puppet shows and overblown promises to "shut down Seattle" rather than reasons why anyone who doesn't already agree with them would want to oppose this meeting. Parrish's column does nothing to change this.
Parrish accuses Senator Patty Murray of ignoring the US Constitution in her support for the WTO. He should reread his text of the Constitution—particularly Article VI Section 2—which makes all treaties part of the supreme law of the land. And statements like "Clinton/Gore has been more damaging on the environment and trade policy than Reagan or Bush" do little to improve Parrish's credibility.
Perhaps the teach-ins some anti-WTO organizations plan for the week before the meeting will provide more substance and information on why anyone would oppose expanding trade. Hopefully, the zealots like Parrish will stay home and talk to each other, which they're usually very good at.
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