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Jean-Paul Baquiast Jean-Paul.Baquiast@wanadoo.fr
Christophe Jacquemin christophe.jacquemin@admiroutes.asso.fr

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Virtuel et démocratie :
La Chronique de Jean-Paul Baquiast

Roger Wiesenbach-Amgot  est américain, mais installé en France. Il suit de très près les développements de l'Internet et de la robotique. C'est notamment un correspondant attentif de notre magazine Automates Intelligents. Par ailleurs, il gère sur le web un site consacré au droit français.

Ajoutons que c'est un fervent démocrate, qui croit dans les possibilités de toutes ces technologies pour favoriser le dialogue entre les peuples, et l'accès des défavorisés à un peu plus de ressources intellectuelles. Bref un ami.

Il a réagi récemment aux propos négatifs d'un monsieur se singularisant dans certains cercles d ela rive gauche par son esprit anti-Internet. Ce texte d'humeur, bien qu'écrit en anglais, sera certainement compréhensible par tous nos lecteurs. Il nous a semblé avoir une place toute trouvée dans cette chronique. Vous en penserez, bien évidemment, ce que vous voudrez. L'auteur est prèt à vous répondre, si vous jugez bon de discuter avec lui directement.

> Roger.Amgot@wanadoo.fr
> http://www.jura.uni-sb.de/france/Law-France
> http://www.amgot.org

Breton Review
Texte provisoire

Comments on the book: "Le culte de l'Internet. Une menace pour le lien social ?" of Philippe Breton (The cult of the Internet. A threat to the social fabric?)

Summary: Our efforts to introduce information technology into French society must take account of a backlash, as discussed below, which discourages its citizenry from joining in this great adventure

Beware, dear internauts! There's a sinister cult that's bent on destroying our social fabric. We've been forging ahead in our tail-wagging innocence, putting our collective minds together via the Net, applying the latest and best information to build a better society.

Then along comes this French academic to put a curse on our great dream.

Nothing has been further from our minds when reveling in these treasure troves of information (usually non-French) found on the Net, creating civic interest groups and profitable enterprises, not knowing that we were being drawn into a nefarious scheme that rots our souls.

Breton uses "culte" in the sense of "religiosity", but not something with a conscious divinity or doctrine, though it supposedly exploits the same instincts. He repeats as epithet the word 'croyance' (belief) as if what we accept as common sense is really an irrational dogma, and he leaves no doubt that this is instrinsically a Bad Thing. The word 'culte' is easily assimilated in France with evil brainwashing sects, regularly denounced but not accompanied by a healthy discussion so that citizens can identify and combat these groups if actually faced with them. Thus anything and anyone can be so labelled in the sacred tradition of a witchhunt.

Breton brands the activist internaut as "fondamentaliste", examples including zealots like Bill Gates (Microsoft), Nicholas Negroponte, prescient directeur of the Medialab at MIT, the inspired Canadian philosopher Pierre Lévy and UNESCO's guru Philippe Quéau. Toss in as well the brainstorming Joël de Rosnay, curator of the Cité des Sciences at Paris as well as J-P Baquiast, who professes far-out ideas for harnessing the principles of the brain's neural networks to develop a communal consciousness for the advancement of civic causes .

Another abomination in Breton's litany is the fact that we are getting information via an automated go-between (search engines and Web pages) rather than directly from Someone Who Knows, a threat to the monopoly of his circle. Personally, I'm not high enough in the food chain to expect any of these Parisian hoarders of Knowledge to answer my calls.

Now keeping in mind that we are deluged by information and inclined to read only the first few lines of an article, to file it away for later (ha-ha) reference, I'll try to first give you a short answer on this 'important' issue. Then if you are familiar with the Left Bank dialectic, you can guess the rest - though you may still find some interesting points in this book for debate - and anecdotes to read on the WC.

My short rebuttal to Breton's thesis is that the Internet is a 'culture', not a religious cult. There may be 'cult heros' and 'cult following', but the key word in this context is 'worship' (veneration) - of persons or objects - not a defining element of the Net.

One might get the idea that Breton has had no real experience of the Net, no revealing contact with the 'defining' type of internaut, that he's been visiting the kinkier chatrooms, that his attitude is fed by junk articles in the French press, and that he can dare say these things only because he is assured that the fashion-conscious Left Bank intellectuals won't contradict him.

He admits in one interview that these zealots comprise but a small part of the Internet population, so then why get upset? What makes him write such nonsense? Could it be that he and his fellow Net-bashers: Pierre Bourdieu, Dominique Wolton, Régis Debray, Ignacio Ramonet, etc. are scared that control over information is passing from their elite to the profane masses and that they themselves are becoming superfluous? This backlash has always occurred in times of change, from the days of the medieval priesthood faced with the holy scriptures translated to French on through marxism and its Pravda-think to the present. It is the growing divide in humankind: between that elite which could pretend to possess all knowledge that mattered and those who are mastering the art of knowing how to find things in spite of ...

True, Breton can point to utterances by net.gods bordering on the mystic which he can latch upon to prove his point: from Pierre Lévy's book "World Philosophie", which he dubs as "deeply mystic and prophetic", he takes phrases out of context ".. cyberspace sounds the coming of a "planetary conscienceness ...". I can only suggest an open-minded reading of Levy's book, which provides a needed philosophical framework for understanding this mistrusted cyberworld, giving insight into how to join it and become productive in an economic and social sense while maintaining human values.

Co-founder of Automates Intelligents, J-P Baquiast imagines in his essay "http://www.admiroutes.asso.fr/livre/automate/project/rationale.htm" Developing intelligence and consciousness in 21st century governments, a world in which all citizens are connected together and participating in a cybergovernment. This seems somewhat fanciful, but it is an example of the kind of 'out of the box' thinking, fracturing the suffocating domination of political 'planners', that eventually leads to something practical.

Essentially, Breton's work boils down to nit-picking reaction without counter-examination or introspection. Critical thinking is again sacrificed to selective sophistry. Maybe he started with a half-baked idea that made sense in his own belief structure, gathering all possible arguments to support this but then, finding his thesis baseless, still felt obliged to carry through to the bitter end - an occupational hazard of the doctrinaire intellectual. And another nail in the coffin of French culture.

A big danger of his message is that it entices vulnerable French youth, those without a mature world-view and lacking guidance, lingual skills and technical confidence, to accept a lame excuse for rejecting the new paradigm when they find it distressing. The damage is compounded by the lack of healthy criticism and introspection in French academia. Public officials and civic leaders are now saying that something must be done to compete in this new world, but they lack imaginative solutions and the charisma of leadership.

Yes, there are pitfalls in our cyberworld, but not really what Breton describes. We as activists of the Net devote most of our time and energy to making things work, but we also have the duty of introspection. Like members of 'Concerned Scientists' we must use our expert knowledge to assure that our works not be hijacked for antisocial ends. Philosophers should be welcome to contribute from their own perspective (as does Philippe Levy), but first they must purify their souls of envy and others of the seven deadly sins.

A recent study by the UCLA Center for Communication Policy reveals that people using the Internet are more vibrant, socially active, devote more time to civic duties and family interaction than non-Internet users... , hardly the picture that Breton's folk would like to stick. Those cyber-entrepreneurs who are the subject of admiring/mocking reportages on French TV are seen to have wives more like the unassuming and faithful childhood sweetheart rather than the 'trophy wives' or the elegant but soulless models (manniquins) who are exhibited by the nouveau riche. http://globalarchive.ft.com/globalarchive/article.html?id=001026006752

We can turn Breton's argumentation on its head and say that a 'religious' aspect of the Internet can reinforce the social fabric. Anyone who knows the black gospel churches in the USA knows that they provide a soulful communion otherwise lacking in society. The 'interest-mapping' of personal relations on the Net, replacing the accident of physical and 'class' proximity, allows deeper contact, a meeting of souls, at least on the virtual level, a benign form of 'collectivism'.

A 'communion of souls' can take many forms, good and bad: there are the sports teams and military squads, where each member must act in concert with the others without verbal exchanges. There has been Woodstock, Hitler's Nuremburg rallies, the telecasts of Roots and Holocaust, where all races tune in to experience the suffering and triumphs of another, and sometimes even the relation between lovers!

Breton's disdain for this new democratising paradigm has a solid basis in French tradition, from the time when religion was only for the nobles, those literary connaisseurs who would not have any printed books in their library (only hand-written works), the entourage of Sartre which turned up its collective nose at recorded music (that 'good' music must be experienced only in live performance), the spoiled brat-elites of the prestigious schools who won't touch a computer keyboard (it being the realm of typists), most recently those who bash fast-foods (that eating out should be reserved for the 'haves').

Another French bugaboo reveals itself when Breton criticises the Internet for its lack of 'defined finality', using the Webcam fad as example. In his world, idle tinkering has no place. Think of the 'experimenters' who provide the skills pool that make the new technology. Likewise you will hear his cyberphobe colleagues denouncing the fact that "anyone can publish anything without any controls". A sad prognosis for the future of France.

Dear Roger, I expect you know France and french culture enough for not believing we are all of us Breton like. JPB

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