Last episode, we looked at the technocrats of the industrial age: Thorstein Veblen, Howard Scott, and the “industrial tinkerers,” as Daniel Bell put it. But Daniel Bell went on to say we were entered a new age — a “post-industrial age” — where a new kind of technocrat would vie for power. They would develop new intellectual technologies that could be codified into complex ways of understanding, predicting, and maybe even controlling global systems.
One such intellectual technology was cybernetics, the darling of mid-century technocrats. It was a theory that proposed you could understand human affairs by understanding certain mathematical relationships in a system, and the nature of how feedbacks circulated in that system. On part #2 of Technocracy Now, we tell stories of cybernetic technocracies.(Programming note: we also have a video version of this introduction, available on YouTube).
First, Joy Rohde tells us the story of Charles A. McClelland, a liberal political scientists who proposed a cybernetic computer system that claimed to predict conflicts before they happened. With this information, US policy makers could usher in a new age of peace and stability (and forever ensure a US-dominated global order). The project never accomplished everything it set out to do, but it is now being resurrected behind closed doors by Lockheed Martin. It’s a techno-utopian dream of mathematical certainty in an uncertain world.
Then, why not cybersocialism? In Salvador Allende’s Chile, they were building a cybernetic computer network that connected factories to state planners. It seems technocratic, but Eden Medina says that these these cyber-revolutionaries saw it as anything but. Medina is author of Cybernetic Revolutionaries: Technology and Politics in Allende’s Chile. The book recounts the short-lived Cybersyn Project. It promised using science to develop a more rationally-ordered economy. However, it also promised to guarantee the freedom and autonomy of workers. The project was destroyed in the brutal coup of 1973. However, did it work, and is it a dream worth resurrecting?