The cyberfuture may not compute

CYBERSELFISH: A CRITICAL ROMP THROUGH THE TERRIBLY LIBERTARIAN CULTURE OF HIGH-TECH By Paulina Borsook Public Affairs 288 pp., $24

Optimists point to the Internet as a tool that will aid the free flow of information, and hence, the spread of democratic values. But a closer look at the cultural values of the men and women who are creating this brave new high-tech world suggests it may be premature to rejoice.

In "Cyberselfish: A Critical Romp Through the Terribly Libertarian Culture of High-Tech," Paulina Borsook offers a savvy, sharply critical look at the attitudes and beliefs of the digerati. A former contributor to Wired magazine, Borsook knows this world well and has written a provocative and witty expos that would be even funnier if it weren't also so scary.

The overwhelming majority of high-tech whiz-kids, Borsook finds, share a mindset so pervasive that many of them are not even aware of it. Borsook calls it "philosophical technolibertarianism." Its elements include a generalized scorn for government, a naive faith that the unregulated free market provides the solution to every conceivable problem, and neo-Darwinist belief in the triumph of the cybernetically fittest.

These dangerously naive libertarians, Borsook argues, are unable to recognize the underlying legal, social, and cultural systems that subsidize and enable their freedom. Or, as Borsook puts it: "Where would you want to do business in 2000? In Russia, where there's no regulation, no central government, no rule of law; or in Northern California, where the roads are mostly well paved and well patrolled and trucks and airplanes are safer than not, where the power grid is usually intact and the banking system is mostly fraud-free ... where construction of new buildings is inspected to make sure they are basically safe and sound, where people don't have to pay protection money.... And government, through subsidy and regulation and supervision, is the Not-So-Bad-Actor/invisible hand behind this relatively peaceful, mostly prosperous scene, making wealth creation possible."

The technolibertarian mindset, Borsook argues, is also blind to aesthetic values, care-giving values, and the value of human subjectivity itself. Insofar as this dangerous brand of libertarianism may be among the values that the West is exporting to other cultures, the coming "New World Order" may be neither equitable, charitable, humane, or even very orderly.

*Merle Rubin reviews books regularly for the Monitor.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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