Balkinization on the techno-utopian cult of disruption:
Why is the term “disruption” so popular nowadays? Elite media features a parade of thinkers keen on “disrupting” old institutions. Talk of social contracts is passé in an America obsessed with technocapitalist visions of a prosperous future.
The yen for “disruption,” an empty term for empty minds in empty people, makes traditional obstacles like social contracts suspect or downright pernicious. This has led to an embrace of proceduralism by those true believers who want an app economy to be the engine of capitalism. And such people rule the world.
The view of society as an institution-free network of autonomous individuals practicing free exchange makes the social sciences, with the exception of economics, irrelevant. What’s left is engineering, neuroscience, an understanding of incentives (in the narrowly utilitarian sense): just right for those whose intellectual predispositions are to algorithms, design, and data structures.
Unfortunately, the “disruptions” pursued by Silicon Valley giants (and their well-heeled consultants) often have little to do with challenging the biggest power centers in society. And why would they? As Farrell notes,
[There is a] burgeoning relationship between technology companies and the U.S. government. Technology intellectuals like to think that a powerful technology sector can enhance personal freedom and constrain the excesses of government. Instead, we are now seeing how a powerful technology sector may enable government excesses. Without Facebook, Google, and Microsoft, surveillance would be far more difficult for the U.S. government.
Similarly, the tech leaders rely on Wall Street to convert their stock options into the cold, hard cash needed to buy other opportunities. No one’s going to disrupt their meal ticket.
The disruption talk seems focused on Schumpeterian creative destruction affecting everyone but giant platforms. As David Golumbia has put it, “Google and Facebook and Cisco and Verizon … get to make the rules, and (other) individuals, even via representative governance, [are told to] keep their hands off.”
If “large corporate employers” must serve as the Archimedean points of the disruptive system, they are going to stand above the fray as journalists, advertisers, patients, doctors, etc. compete to the “lowest cost/highest productivity” players in their fields. Corporations plan disruption that tends to weaken the very professionals, educators, and civil society institutions capable of shaking up the corrupt and oligarchic entities most in need of disruption.
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