EP64: Technocracy Now!, part 1 (ft. Noam Chomsky)

Technocracy is the idea that experts should govern. For the common good, presumably. It makes a certain amount of sense, given how irrational our politics seem to be right now. So, technocracy is seductive.

In fact, it’s an idea as old as politics itself. We begin the first of a three-part series telling stories of technocracies past, present, and future.

In this first part, Ira Basen tells us the story of Technocracy, Inc. This 1930s movement aimed to install non-democratic North American “technate” where we only work from the ages of 25 to 45, for 16 hours a week. It might surprise you to learn that Elon Musk’s grandfather was one of its leaders. Basen produced an extended CBC: Ideas documentary on the movement, and it’s worth checking out.

Then, perhaps the most influential intellectual today: Noam Chomsky. What is the place of technical expertise in a radical left project?  Chomsky’s famous “Responsibility of Intellectuals” is one of the best critiques of the liberal technocratic intelligentsia. However, his lesser-known writing on Mikhail Bakunin’s predictions about how the Marxist intellectual vanguard would “beat the people with the people’s stick” offers a warning to left technocrats.  We have a wide-ranging conversation with Professor Chomsky on his critique of intellectuals, the place of technical expertise in a radical left project, his anarchist theory of expertise, and his thoughts on popular reason and popular intelligence.

This is part of a wider series on techno-utopian thinking, produced with professors Tanner Mirrlees and Imre Szemen. For a full list of credits, contact information, and more, visit our about page.

Theme: Tech-Bro Philosophers

Today, our leading public intellectuals aren’t people like John Dewey, Emma Goldman, Bertrand Russell, Rosa Luxemburg, or Stuart Hall. They’re more like: Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, Gary Vee, Curtis Yarvin, and the like. We have techbro philosopher kings, and their millions of fans wait on bated breath for their infinite wisdom.

Their politics is kind of an anti-politics. It’s a politics of  technological solutionism, technological determinism, and technological utopia (or dystopia, depending on who you ask). On this series, we examine the thoughts of our new ‘thought leaders,’ and tell stories of technological utopias past, present, and future.

This series of episodes received funding from the Social Sciences and Research Council of Canada. The scholarly leads are Professors Tanner Mirrlees  at Ontario Tech University and Imre Szeman at the University of Toronto Scarborough. They both provided research and editorial guidance to these episodes.