• Law, Policy -- and IT?

    Tracy Mitrano explores the intersection where higher education, the Internet and the world meet (and sometimes collide).


The Internet, the Pope and the iPod, Part III

Reflections from Rome.

July 12, 2015

In 2005, I returned to Italy for the first time as a so-called “mature” woman to teach Internet Law at the MiNe Program, Universite Cattolica in Piacenza, Italy.  While there I reflected on the relationship between the emergence of information technologies and traditional culture and values of the Catholic Church.

Last year I revisited this topic after spending the summer session II teaching communications and law at John Cabot University in Rome. It was a different pope then, Benedict, and I fused the ethical perspective with thoughts coming out of Davos, the crème de la crème conference for the best and brightest in finance and technology.

This year I am back at John Cabot, celebrating its successes as an increasingly important player in international education, ever grateful for the opportunity to teach, and to observe the eternal city. A new, vibrant Pope, Francis, is making his mark on the world with searing criticisms of the modern world, colonialism and capitalism in particular, and its deleterious effects on the environment, societies and people registered in poverty, inequality and injustice. 

While many Catholics and non-Catholics alike first found him a welcome breath of fresh air in the Vatican after years of calcified corruption and antiquated doctrine, economists, capitalists and policy makers are lining up to respond to Pope Francis’s views with a combination of polite condescension if not outright criticism.

 Count me among those who still consider him fresh.  More than that, Pope Francis is a necessary ethical voice in a so-called post-modern world of uncertain and shifting moral underpinnings. And nothing reveals the dynamic of that global political economy better than information technologies. Is it a coincidence that the turn from the greatest expansion of the middle class in U.S. began to contract at about the same time as the nascent emergence of information technology economy (i.e. in the 1970’s and ‘80’s)?  Looking back almost a half century, I don’t think so. 

This observation should not be interpreted as if there were an evil intentional genius moving money and power. The proverbial invisible hand of the free market has enough fingers on its scales in the form of legitimate investment bankers, by definition self-interested corporations, innovative and ambitious new titans of communications and Internet companies. Moreover, those interests all come with lobbying power and politicians ready to accept campaign funds in exchange for the support of a tax structure that since the 1980’s has radically skewed class formation backwards to the late nineteenth and early twentieth-century patterns. And that is just in the United States. What about the rest of the world? Is it so bad to have a voice that rises above the usual cant about trickle down economics or the virtues of the free market raising some objections?

To those theorists who want the Pope to speak more like an economist, your disciplinary acumen has done little to stop the categorical inequalities that besiege us; if he spoke more like you perhaps he would find himself mired in the same intellectual traps you do not escape. To those thinkers who wish he would balance the good of capitalism with the bad, he is not simply an educator who will give an exam at the end of his sermon, he is an inspirer who seeks people to act. To those who desire solutions with his criticism, both the well-intentioned and the deliberately critical, join him in appreciating the fundamental human need for change in our markets so that perhaps you, too, could think through the metaphorical roadblocks.

And now to those who will pan this post as being “against the free market” or, in its own way, admittedly typical cant from an ex-Catholic, ex-Marxist, sort-of-Freudian, iconoclastic feminist turned observer of Internet law and policy, have at it. We all can spend the rest of our careers sharpening our wits and scoring points or we can begin to do serious work together to figure out how to level out the male-ultra-wealthy-white-intellectually-enhanced and circumstantially blessed (good parents, schools, SATs, colleges, internships, jobs placements, etc.) at the expense of over 80% of the world that still lives in poverty and as the result of large-scale inequalities and injustice.  

What’s your choice?


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