T.I.A.A.*: Voting, The Internet & Democracy

If voting chaged anything
I have been taken aback today by the number of people tweeting or texting me to check that I have voted.
This is a really interesting phenomenon.

I don’t think I can recall as many people putting out the call to become politically active before.
But what’s the driver for this? Is it public disenfranchisement with the political status quo following recent political scandals?

Or is it something much broader – perhaps the trend that people are becoming more and empowered in everything from purchasing decisions to political choice?

There’s probably a bit of both at play and I believe (of coruse!) that this is being catalysed by the Internet. But while the Internet is perhaos galvanising these emotions, their roots lie deeper in the drive for accountability (thus transparency) and a fundamental desire for empowerment – both political (with a small 'p') and personal.

These thoughts were most recently crystallised in a presentation on the Internet and democracy I delivered in the Isle of Man, which – funnily enough – is the world’s oldest, continuous parliamentary democracy.

What follows is blog short-hand for many rambling, overlapping and unexplored ideas knocking around in my head so please excuse any non sequiturs!

I began by looking at two great scholars of the Internet and the Information Age: Manuel Castells and Yochai Benkler.

To grossly précis and paraphrase the pair, Castell’s argues that networked organisation in society is greatly reducing the validity of the state, government and political parties; Benkler argues that the Internet is creating a new ‘commons’ enabling peer production of economic and cultural good and increasing democratic freedoms.

Put together we can plot major faultlines opening in the traditional role of institutions (state, government, political parties and even NGOs) to govern and conversely significant opportunities emerging for individuals and communities to self-govern.

Or rather not 'govern' as we traditional conceive of it as 'governing' implies a hierarchical organisation that uses power over others to achieve organisation.

I appreciate that non-hierarchical organisation is not as simple as this sentence implies (the Tyranny of Structurelessness' for starters – although I also believe the Internet can help overcome this** – see below if you're interested) but the idea of self-organisation has a much more deep-rooted basis than that espoused by Clay Shirky.

What we perceive as contemporary political democracy originates more or less in the Enlightenment and is best exemplified by Jurgen Habermas's vision of the 'public sphere' where civil society was created by consensus.

However, contemporary French philosopher, Jacques Ranciere, has ideated a vision of democracy that is rooted in dissensus, rather than consensus. For Ranciere, consensus is not true democracy, but rather compromise based on the way civil society is framed by its historical institutions e.g. the state, political parties, NGOs, etc.

This is what brings – eventually – back around to 'real' democracy and the Internet. Ranciere sees democracy as unmediated – direct connections between individuals or even loosely affiliated, affinity groups. Does the internet help people achieve this?

It was Jeff Jarvis who wrote (in The Guardian) back in early 2006 that:

"The internet … disaggregates elements and then enables these free atoms
to reaggregate into new molecules; it fragments the old and unifies the
new. So in the end, the internet gives us the opportunity to make more
nuanced expressions of our political worldview, which makes obsolete
old orthodox"

Is this not dissensus-based politics? And is it not potentially driving a societal shift towards a world where people want political engagement and democracy to be on an individual level? Without party politics and ingrained corruption and unchecked power? I dunno. I'm only asking!

* T.I.A.A. – There is always an alternative: my interpretation of Thatcher's T.I.N.A.

** The Tyrany of Structurelessness (TToS) – For those interested I believe that the paradox inherent within (my reading) of TToS could potentially be (and, indeed, is) overcome by the Internet and self-organising, horizontal networks. The original issue in TToS was that attempts to create a structureless (i.e. non-hierarchical) organisation in the physical world became undone as groups spend there efforts at creating a structureless organisation, rather than achieving anything through that structurelessness.

However, as the Internet in instrumentally structureless, any organising done using the Internet is inherently structureless also. Therefore it removes the need to artificially create a structureless organisation allowing the group to organise non-hierarchically and achieve things.

Tags: democracy, elections Tyranny of Structurelessness, Jacques Ranciere, Jurgen Habermas

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