Cyberselfish

In her article, “Cyberselfish,” Paulina Borsook makes the argument that techo-libertarians are psychopathic nerds–“violently lacking in compassion,” as well as any knowledge of history or politics. They are simple ingrates: Although they “are the inheritors of the greatest governmental subsidy of technology the planet has ever seen,” they take the fact for granted, like “privileged, spoiled teenagers everywhere.” Libertarianism attracts them, in Borsook’s view, out of economic self-interest and a desire to take revenge on a society that failed to respect them. Libertarianism is simply the right fit for a cruel, youth-dominated culture that believes in its own economic immunity. Borsook is correct in describing the “cyberculture” as implicitly libertarian. Where she goes wrong is in her presumption that gifted, Ubermenschen hackers desire to track down and lynch the weak. Networks are not built to eradicate ordinary people – they are made to empower them.

The first mistake Borsook makes is letting her own liberal political agenda get in the way of a fairly written argument. Throughout the article, Borsook wrongly equates libertarianism with anarchism: “they (the libertarians) decry regulation, and are ragingly anti-government.” Anarchism is an extremely radical subgroup of libertarianism, not to be confused with left-wing anarchists; the majority of libertarians, and certainly those holding political office, are moderates who follow Charles Murray and David Boaz, both of whom call for a limited government rather than outright abolition, and allowing the notion of the public good. Murray is willing to allow a government forty percent the size of our current one. Borsook again errs when she criticizes libertarianism’s stance on economic matters. The Republican Party shares many of its beliefs on economics with libertarianism, just as the Democratic Party shares many of its personal beliefs with libertarianism. However, only the conservative economic aspects of libertarianism are criticized, although the GOP’s decades long attack on Big Government (which is based on libertarian precepts) is never mentioned.

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Referring to a successful “Silicon Valley guy,” Borsook writes in exasperation when she learned that the man was against building guidelines, “Obviously, he had never heard of the tragedy of the commons, where one sheep too many consuming more than its share of common resources, destroys the whole; nor had he thought much about what participating in a community means.” Thomas Jefferson, along with many of the founding fathers, would be considered a libertarian by today’s standards (“That government is best which governs least”). Although the United States is not a libertarian country by far (one has yet to exist), the US’s economic policies make it the most capitalistic, and therefore, libertarian country in the world. Regulations are implemented with good intentions, but they often have unintended consequences. For example, minimum wage laws cause unemployment among the very people they are made to help. In a meeting with another successful technologist, Borsook was aghast when the woman commented that the US’s economy is in good shape and how she received so many job applicants who had advanced degrees and employment histories of authority and responsibility. Borsook writes that both her sister and ex-boyfriend (who both hold prestigious degrees) can only find mediocre jobs because they are not in the “right” profession of technology. It is a sign, however, that the economy is in good shape because as more families become more affluent, more people are able to obtain higher education, thus making the job markets (including all white-collar jobs) highly competitive.

Borsook then goes on to make debatable assumptions on techno-libertarians’ abilities and personalities. She claims they know nothing but technology, and communicate better with email than verbally. Libertarians also are unable to pick up “cues, commonplaces, and patterns of being that civilians use to communicate, connect, and operate in groups.” Techno-libertarians may have a relatively low ability to identify with other people, but that is mostly because they are not like most people. Just because social situations may be draining and energy consuming for an introverted hacker, does not mean they have anti-social tendencies. Besides having no sense of social systems, Borsook stereotypes even further by saying libertarians have never heard of The Magic Mountain or its Nobel laureate author, Thomas Mann. But it seems Borsook knows little of what she’s talking about since, Milton Friedman, George Stigler, Ronald Coase, Gary Becker, and James Buchanan are all Nobel laureate libertarian economists because she goes on to write that libertarians “haven’t acquaintance with history, politics, and economics.” It is amazing then, that Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve, is a libertarian and disciple of Ayn Rand who was , if not the most, one of the most hardcore libertarians (although she denounced the party in favor of her own Objectivism’). Perhaps the most ridiculous point Borsook pulls out of thin air is that libertarians believe that blue-collar workers are “superfluous,” but as with most of her supporting ‘evidence,’ there is no source of the information, which in return, weakens her arguments because she loses credibility.

As Borsook wraps up her argument, she warns of the consequences that libertarianism will bring to our country, but once again, she twists the truth to make libertarianism seem malicious. She writes that the real invader of privacy “is corporate America seeking ever-better ways to exploit the Net, to sell databases of consumer purchases and preferences, to track potential customers however it can.” America would be a much better place if the biggest atrocity was a company making money off of you, never mind the racial profiling after 9-11.

Borsook also criticizes the lack of philanthropy on part of techno-libertarians. However, open-source (voluntary abandonment of intellectual-property rights) software development is one of the keystones of modern technologists’ lives. Libertarians believe that the self-interest of individuals leads them to engage in commercial activity that promotes the public good (this is the “invisible hand” doctrine of the 18th century economist, Adam Smith). Left to themselves, individuals generate what economist H.A. Hayek called “spontaneous order.” The phrase argues that free market will ultimately provide more wealth for all than a regulated market: trickle down economics.
The third consequence, according to Borsook, is that with no government regulation on environmental issues, manufacturing of plastics and semiconductors will source deplete the air. On the other hand, damage done to air and water is what economists call an “externality,” an externality is something that doesn’t impact a company’s revenue. A growing number of libertarian environmentalists argue that the way to improve the environment is to “internalize” the externalities. If property rights were clearly defined, people serving their private interests will end up serving the public good, once again, by use of the ‘invisible hand.’ Libertarian environmentalists point out that what is owned by everybody is cared for by nobody. A good example is the air and water quality of formerly Communist Eastern Europe and relatively free Western Europe. Western Europe is environmentally cleaner than Eastern Europe in almost every way.

Borsook’s liberal politicizing would lead you to think she would be empathetic to diversity. However, if she really did celebrate variety, I am sure she wouldn’t cast techno-libertarians as a menace to society. Not to be belligerent, but if techno-libertarians consisted mainly of some assorted affirmative action group or another, Borsook would probably praise them. The prejudice Borsook holds against techno-libertarians is grounded in what all discriminations are: fear. What is more profound than the fear of new technology and the fear of open market is the underlying fear of freedomof what would happen if the former ideas of right and wrong were disbanded.

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