Tuesday, December 19, 2006

"You the man!", so says Time Magazine

Uncle Sam says, "Take charge. No 'leader' can do it for you!"
David Seaton's News Links
According to Time Magazine, all us Internet users are the "Person of the Year." You have to wonder why Time Warner of all people is celebrating the loss of their gatekeeper function, but still, they could be right. The 20th century opened with many outsized, revolutionary personalities like Einstein, Picasso and Lenin, who, in the space of only a few years, changed the way the world looked and the way it looked at itself.

Now, at the beginning of the 21rst century, either humans of the Einstein, Picasso and Lenin mold don't exist any more or, as is more probable, they are simply not needed and not called forth. Today, we have Kleenex-like, disposable, "celebrities" to satisfy our need to worship "great men".

On the contrary, this seems to be an era where, for the first time in history, intelligent, mass opinion can be formed and set into motion without the benefit and shepherding of the "great and the good"; those who have manipulated humanity to their benefit since records have been kept of our affairs. We have just seen a clear example in the Iraq disaster: the most serious and defining crisis of our time, where as Strobe Talbot tells us in the Financial Times, "The US faces in Iraq what could be the most consequential foreign-policy debacle in its history".

At this decisive moment most of America's so called "leaders" either voted or lobbied for the war. And as for the "gatekeepers", the great media groups captained by America's newspaper of reference, the New York Times, actively promoted it. At the very same time, in an unprecedented popular movement, millions of people in America and around the world demonstrated against the war and organized to oppose it and haven't ceased organizing, blogging and agitating online against it since the very day it began. Obviously if the "people" had been listened to, an unprecedented disaster could have been averted.

The insight would be, that after decades of nearly universal literacy and public education, the general public with the new technologies at its command, is perfectly able to decide the major issues of the day more correctly than its "leaders," who instead of stewarding the general welfare are for the most part responding to the cocktail of special interest groups whose large contributions finance their campaigns. What we have just lived through in the first years of the new century seems to bear out the theories of "deliberative democracy", Which in Wikipedia's article on the subject is defined as,

"Any system of political decisions based on some tradeoff of consensus decision making and representative democracy. In contrast to the traditional economics-based theory of democracy, which emphasizes voting as the central institution in democracy, deliberative democracy theorists argue that legitimate lawmaking can only arise from the public deliberation of the citizenry."
I seem to remember that somewhere Noam Chomsky said that if Americans studied public affairs with the attention and sophisticated powers of analysis that they expend on baseball statistics, it would change the world. Perhaps we are looking at the beginning of that now. Substitute "soccer" for "baseball" and it could apply to the rest of the world.

The only major US politician that seems to have acted decisively on this insight is Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic Party. Dean (or someone very near him) seems to have read and understood the Hardt and Negri concept of the "Multitude" (no mean feat as the authors can't write their way out of a paper bag). This "multitude" (Hardt-Negri's definition) "is our era's new political class, a fungible mass of political force, which in contrast to the 'proletariat' or working-class, is 'a collection of singularities" who discover what they have in common, but without fusing into some sort of sovereign unity'.

Howard Dean, alone among mainstream politicians, seems to understand the potential of opening political life to this "multitude" by giving them the chance to take their own political fate directly into their hands.

If this sounds a little esoteric to you, consider this simple arithmetic: there are an estimated 40,000,000 Americans without any health coverage... if each of them donated only 50 cents through the Internet to the Democratic Party's "war chest," that would make $20,000,000. By thus short-circuiting of the traditional "big wallet," special interest contributors, the realistic possibility for a new, high-tech populism opens.

The moral of the story? Before they figure out how to shut the Internet down, let us hurry and change the world. DS

You -- Yes, You -- Are TIME's Person of the Year
Abstract: Web 2.0 is a massive social experiment, and like any experiment worth trying, it could fail. There's no road map for how an organism that's not a bacterium lives and works together on this planet in numbers in excess of 6 billion. But 2006 gave us some ideas. This is an opportunity to build a new kind of international understanding, not politician to politician, great man to great man, but citizen to citizen, person to person. It's a chance for people to look at a computer screen and really, genuinely wonder who's out there looking back at them. Go on. Tell us you're not just a little bit curious. READ IT ALL

1 comment:

kelly said...

I fondly remember my first research papers assigned to me at the university, spending hours combing jounals, indexes, books in the sprawling library. The course was called "Guns or Butter" and we were to investigate the roots of wars taking place on the continent of Africa at that moment...I thought I had discovered a conspiracy, as time after time, the US had supplied funding and weapons to at least one side of the warring factions.

What I couldn't believe is that is was all right there in a public library, in publications available to all! Why hadn't someone revealed this? Why were we all so ignorant?

I had the classic "Plato's Cave" experience...but what intrigues me still (now that the Internet provides us practically with our personal home libraries) is what made up that "Cave" I was in, and if the Internet is successfully destroying the "Cave", when will those who created the "Cave" get pissed off enough to stop the destruction.

Thanks for your site! Great stuff!