The Democratic state is full stack challenge and cannot be reduced to the vote – a functioning democracy requires the democratising capital, knowledge and freedoms (agency) – making functional markets – all topped off the vote. It is why we historically built banks for the poor, schools and libraries prior to the emancipation of the vote.
Posts tagged democracy
Come on, Europe. Take Europeans seriously. Let them speak. Why educate the masses if they are not allowed to talk? Look at Ireland, the most innovative democracy in Europe. Just weeks ago, a random sample of a hundred Irish citizens, drafted by lot, was brought together to form a Citizens’ Assembly. This is a country that trusts its citizens, rather than fearing them. Over the next year, they will discuss five topics, including abortion, referendums, and climate change. They will invite all the experts they want to hear. This Assembly is the second of its kind. In 2013 and 2014, a similar procedure asked Irish citizens to make policy recommendations about a range of topics including marriage equality. Their proposal for constitutional reform was later voted on in a national referendum. It was the first time in modern history that a constitution was altered after deliberation with a random sample of citizens. Now, these are ways of doing democracy in the 21st century. In South Australia earlier this year, 350 citizens were drafted by lot to decide whether the state should store nuclear waste from around the world in its desert. The topic was too technical for a referendum and too touchy for party politics. By pulling in random citizens, a much more informed policy proposal was made. (The panel decided against.) What if you were to call for a similar Citizens’ Assembly in the European Union? Every European member state could bring together a random sample of a hundred citizens. They would then meet on four occasions, over a period of several months, in order to answer one big question: How do we make the EU more democratic by 2020? From Portugal to Estonia, participants would get the same amount of time and materials. Every country would formulate ten recommendations. Then a selection of delegates from each national convention, again drafted by lot, would come together in Brussels to finalize a list of 25 shared priorities for future EU policy.
“We should be cautious about putting too much faith or fear into elected officials […] At the end of the day, this is just a president. [….] If we want to have a better world we can’t hope for an Obama, and we should not fear a Donald Trump, rather we should build it ourselves.”
“Democracy arises out of the notion that those who are equal in any respect are equal in all respects; because men are equally free, they claim to be absolutely equal.”
Aristotle, (384 – 322 BCE)
Imagine if there were an alternate dystopian reality where law enforcement was 100% effective, such that any potential law offenders knew they would be immediately identified, apprehended, and jailed. How could people have decided that marijuana should be legal, if nobody had ever used it? How could states decide that same sex marriage should be permitted, if nobody had ever seen or participated in a same sex relationship? The cornerstone of liberal democracy is the notion that free speech allows us to create a marketplace of ideas, from which we can use the political process to collectively choose the society we want. Most critiques of this system tend to focus on the ways in which this marketplace of ideas isn’t totally free, such as the ways in which some actors have substantially more influence over what information is distributed than others. The more fundamental problem, however, is that living in an existing social structure creates a specific set of desires and motivations in a way that merely talking about other social structures never can. The world we live in influences not just what we think, but how we think, in a way that a discourse about other ideas isn’t able to. Any teenager can tell you that life’s most meaningful experiences aren’t the ones you necessarily desired, but the ones that actually transformed your very sense of what you desire. We can only desire based on what we know. It is our present experience of what we are and are not able to do that largely determines our sense for what is possible.
These are difficult days for democracy. European nations struggle to elect governments on low turnouts. Populists wielding half-truths go from strength to strength. Facts are a devalued currency, personalities never more important. People use ballot boxes to bloody the noses of the political elite. Young people are particularly jaded. Late adopters such as Russia and Turkey are turning their backs. In its original sense, rule by the people, democracy seems to be in retreat. Perhaps because of this, or in spite of it, experiments in new manifestations of democracy are proliferating. And some may offer a more tangible experience for ordinary people than the remote, mundane exercise of voting for a stranger once every four or five years.
Right now, if you want to have someone attacked by a horde of angry strangers, you need to be a celebrity. That’s a real problem on Twitter and Facebook both, with a few users in particular becoming well-known for abusing their power to send their fans after people with whom they disagree. But remember, the Internet’s about democratising power, and this is the latest frontier. With a trollbot and some planning, this power will soon be accessible to anyone.
It is an undeniably odd sight: a member of Myanmar’s military sitting in uniform taking notes on the basics of democracy. Next to him sit former political prisoners and human rights activists who now hold a majority in the country’s first credible parliament. Aung San Suu Kyi won a landmark general election last year, making her the de facto head of government. But her team of neophyte legislators, many of whom were locked up for years by the junta, are in need of a class in how to run the country. […] And so the former enemies sat down last week at desks in parliament to attend a United Nations-led intensive course on how to carry out the job of being an MP in a modern democracy.
We were sold magic as the affordance of technology, from the term “automagic” on down, and we were sold this magic as the provision of personal agency – fifteen years ago I couldn’t move on the web for people talking about the internet as channel for emergent democracy, five years ago everyone couldn’t shut up about smartphones as the new computing paradigm that put the world in our hands. And now we’re at the end of the current cycle and the five dark towers of big digital technology are reduced to bullshit squabbles. I mean, sure, large ones, rolling across the world and throwing their shadows over us all. But the sleight of hand is all over. There’s a bit at the end of the tv series THE THICK OF IT, where spin doctor Malcolm Tucker, frequently self-described as “a practitioner of the dark arts,” says, in his final extremity, “Look at me. I’m not pulling anything out of my magic hat. The rabbits have fallen to pieces. Their fucking heads are coming off and frightening the kids.”
The art field is a space of wild contradiction and phenomenal exploitation. It is a place of power mongering, speculation, financial engineering, and massive and crooked manipulation. But it is also a site of commonality, movement, energy, and desire. In its best iterations it is a terrific cosmopolitan arena populated by mobile shock workers, itinerant salesmen of self, tech whiz kids, budget tricksters, supersonic translators, PhD interns, and other digital vagrants and day laborers. It’s hard-wired, thin-skinned, plastic-fantastic. A potential commonplace where competition is ruthless and solidarity remains the only foreign expression. Peopled with charming scumbags, bully-kings, almost-beauty-queens. It’s HDMI, CMYK, LGBT. Pretentious, flirtatious, mesmerizing. This mess is kept afloat by the sheer dynamism of loads and loads of hardworking women. A hive of affective labor under close scrutiny and controlled by capital, woven tightly into its multiple contradictions.
What kind of oligarchy? As Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan explains, Gilens and Page’s findings provide support for two theories of governance: economic elite domination and biased pluralism. The first is pretty straightforward and states that the ultra-wealthy wield all the power in a given system, though some argue that this system still allows elites in corporations and the government to become powerful as well. Here, power does not necessarily derive from wealth, but those in power almost invariably come from the upper class. Biased pluralism on the other hand argues that the entire system is a mess and interest groups ruled by elites are fighting for dominance of the political process. Also, because of their vast wealth of resources, interest groups of large business tend to dominate a lot of the discourse.
Neoreaction is a political ideology supporting a return to traditional ideas of government and society, especially traditional monarchy and an ethno-nationalist state. It sees itself opposed to modern ideas like democracy, human rights, multiculturalism, and secularism. I tried to give a more complete summary of its beliefs in Reactionary Philosophy In An Enormous, Planet Sized Nutshell.
If there was ever a need for political representation or a paternalistic and opaque authority it has been removed by technology. Every political system we have tried has proven incapable of protecting human rights and dignity. Every political system we have tried has devolved into oligarchy. To effect the change we require immediately, to give individuals control and responsibility, to bring regional systems under regional governance, allow global collaboration and protect the heritage of future generations, we need a new political model.
Citizen deliberative councils, participatory budgeting, the Occupy movement’s consensus decision making: These are all experiments in more participatory forms of democracy. Technologies can support these types of experiments, from the keypad and CoVision technologies used by AmericaSpeaks in deliberative dialog and polling to the geographic information systems used by the Madrona platform for participatory spatial planning. With the rise of the German Pirate Party (see NYT and NPR reports), so-called liquid democracy platforms for proxy voting (or delegated voting) are finally getting some real-world testing and development.
The term was indeed a direct analogy with ‘post-industrial’. A post-industrial society is not a non-industrial one. It continues to make and to use the products of industry, but the energy and innovative drive of the system have gone elsewhere. The same applies in a more complex way to post-modern, which is not the same as anti-modern or of course pre-modern. It implies a culture that uses the achievements of modernism but departs from them in its search for new possibilities. A post-democratic society therefore is one that continues to have and to use all the institutions of democracy, but in which they increasingly become a formal shell. The energy and innovative drive pass away from the democratic arena and into small circles of a politico-economic elite. I did not say that we were now living in a post-democratic society, but that we were moving towards such a condition.
Overall, the nature of the problem seems to be that our representative democratic institutions have been captured by meta-institutions that implement the iron law of oligarchy by systematically reducing the risk of change. They have done so by converging on a common set of policies that do not serve the public interest, but minimize the risk of the parties losing the corporate funding they require in order to achieve re-election. And in so doing, they have broken the “peaceful succession when enough people get pissed off” mechanism that prevents revolutions.