Shoring uncertain times (10 January 2009)

Almost 6 years ago, I spent in Washington DC the 8 last days before the start of the US war on Iraq. I wrote a “diary of the last days before the preventive wars”. These times were dominated by a feeling of ineluctability, the certainty of what would happen and of consequences, even if one would be mistaken about the precise course of events. We are still in these times, their tragedies do not let those who were supposed to be helped in peace. However, we are shoring uncertain times. It is one such uncertainty that brings me back to Washington: will the Obama presidency modify the American approach of intellectual rights policy? Will be return to these times where the US construct their power on offering a constructive vision to the world? Will the sharing of information, culture and innovation be recognized as a necessary component of democracy? This is not what I am going to tell you about in the coming days, or only as to situate the landscape of events.

I wrote several diaries when traveling in the US, starting in 1978 when I first traveled in the country where my parents met and married. Curiously, at the time, I felt I was returning to it. Today’s diary signals a change in the contents of this blog. In the last 4 years, it focused principally on the stakes of information and intellectual rights. Today, I have the opportunity to address these issues in other media. I would like to initiate a work of a more exploratory nature, to make explicit these ideas that are the background of one’s thought and often are not formulated. I would like to risk exposing them.

My political thinking was a long travel towards uncertainty, a tedious fight against the fear to abandon certainty. That’s not unusual for people who age to accept uncertainty. However, where many translate the recognition of uncertainty into some vague acceptance of the way things go, the same process reinforced for me the ability to take precise positions, to identify key levers one can push to enable (hopefully desirable) changes. My friends mock me when I say that the core of a true political message is to identify levers. Not 120 proposals, a few levers. How can one interest people with levers? Even more, one often does not know what exactly what they will push up and where it will fall down. in 2007, when I tried to list and defend some levers to restore the standing of politics at the occasion of the French presidential campaign, I started by the legitimacy of policy as experimentation. It can trigger some fears on the “may 1000 initiatives flourish” side. Hence, it can’t be any experimentation. It must be constrained by public debate, by fundamental rights and constitutional principles, by processes that monitor effects as soon as it possible to do so. But I believe it is much better than the giant uncontrolled experiment consisting in letting dogmatic rules lead us in the dark because one pretends they are the only possible path.

Return to the present day realities. After have the beauties of overbooking offered me an upgrade in business class, landing is at the immigration controls. I have a 10 years visa, inherited from a travel where I was prevented to embark because of wrong type of passport. But it does not save me from the nth> biometric data capture nor from a slightly unpleasant questioning. “What type of business? Which conferences? What type of software do you do? When was your last trip in the US?” I get it wrong, forget my visit in 2006 for the 10 years of First Monday in Chicago and answer: “in 2004”. The computer and the stamp prove me a lier. But I am still authorized to enter without “secondary control”. It’s the same or worse in France, we French just don’t see it.

From the taxi driver to the reception desk staff, minds are on Obama’s inauguration. Hard to believe that I am not staying a few days more to experience it. I force myself to eat and stay awake to adopt immediately to the new time zone. Sizule Muzungu of IQ Sensato is at the restaurant and Emilie Barrau of the European Bureau of Consumer Unions in the elevator. We are too tired to exchange more than the smalltalk of jet-lag, but happy to see each other gain. My cell phone does not work (not 3-band as I believed). The wifi does not configure properly under GNU/Linux (bad config of their DHCP server). 15 minutes lost to find a way around it. An email to family to say I am arrived. Let’s sleep.

This post is also available in: French

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