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[liberationtech] Resignation

Joshua Cohen jcohen57 at
Tue Sep 14 10:17:41 PDT 2010

I am one of the directors of the Program on Liberation Technologies,  
and (now just speaking for myself) wanted to say a word on this  
(partly echoing themes from Katrin, Daniel, Jake, Evgeny, Jim Youll,  
and Jane Fountain, among others):

1. For me, a basic purpose of the Program is to host conversations  
exactly like the one we have just been having about Haystack. That  
means that I understand the purpose of the Program as if the name had  
a question mark:

For me, the name is: Liberation Technologies?

In short, we have a question, not an answer. [Thus share the Katrin/ 
Evgeny concern about myths and rhetoric.]

2. I think bullshit detection — aka the discipline of evidence and  
argument, aka reason — in discussions about IT solutions to important  
social/political problems has been VERY low (comparable to the minimal  
levels of bullshit detection in discussions about development  
assistance, before the Poverty Action Lab). It has been low because  
lots of people are not in the habit of asking the basic questions:

(a) how do I know? and (even more importantly)

(b) how would I know if I was wrong?

Moreover, people who do ask those questions are often treated (as Jim  
says) as hurdles to getting things done in a world filled with  
incredibly urgent problems in which everything needs to have been done  
yesterday: treated as hurdles, or as irritating skeptics, or as  
annoyingly impractical academics, not as key players in making things  

3. Of course, when people ask hard questions, you end up with lots of  
uncertainty. And if you can't act with clear purpose while openly  
acknowledging the uncertainty, you should find something else to do,  
because you are almost certain to do serious damage.

Josh Cohen

On Sep 14, 2010, at 8:46 AM, Katrin Verclas wrote:
> A lot hinges on the myths and rhetoric around so-called ''liberation  
> tech" and the collective (and in many ways uniquely American) techno- 
> fix mythology.  It's more about us than people and their hopes and  
> fears in Iran, more about American values and assumptions, and a lot  
> more about the blinders of the players involved, including as  
> Jillian York put it to me, desperate tech journalists on the prowl.

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