I am not a cyber utopian, which might seem strange given that I advise
But I always enjoy having my assumptions tested -- particularly when two intriguing and potentially contrasting voices intervene. In one camp stands
It took me a while to see the merits in the Carswell mindset. Much of his book is a wail against conventional politics. His solution is traditional Hayek in a modern setting -- a paradise of small government and nation states. Power, he sees, is in the hands of a malign force of 'hardcore Cartesians'. He states: 'Since the Berlin Wall came down, the West has retreated yet further from its model of limited government. In almost every Western state today, the state spends between half and a third as much of GDP as it did when Soviet Communism collapsed.'
After ploughing through the political predictability, a more interesting set of thoughts emerge. Carswell asserts that iDemocracy will enshrine a new era of more personalised, or 'hyper-personalised' public life. Indeed he argues that this has already begun, even if the media narrative fails to take this fully into account. Everything has become more democratic, be it our taste in music and culture, or our ability to comment on and influence politics. 'The internet pulverizes monoliths and mass markets, and puts the emphasis on the niche,' he comments. 'Bloggers have rudely interrupted the monopoly of the old elite commentariat.'
From hyper-personalization, comes hyper-accountability. The public no longer needs to rely on the opinion of a newspaper reporter, who, he adds, 'probably drinks in the same bar and eats in the same taxpayer-subsidized restaurant in Westminster or
Carswell develops this theme into the behaviour of politicians themselves. The Commons is 'starting to get off its knees', he asserts. Politicians can no longer hide behind blanket generic messages. Their votes, their every utterance, are being monitored and cross-checked.
As a result parliamentarians have become less enslaved to their party and more responsive to the needs of those who voted them in. Ergo: 'Years of deferential democracy in
Strip away the argot and some fascinating ideas can be found. Johnson delves into detail on campaign finance reform, pointing out the extent to which all candidates in the US, not just presidential hopefuls, are forced to go cap in hand to major corporations -- and to return the favours. Modern-day tyrannical nobles of Madison's time are not members of an Old World aristocracy; they are the hedge fund managers and teachers' unions and Big Pharma -- organizations whose financial power endows them with a staggeringly disproportionate influence.
He endorses the idea of 'democracy vouchers', whereby each voter is required to give
The underlying idea behind Johnson's fast-moving and often entertaining work is the need to expand civic participation. The internet has acted as the catalyst, but much of his thesis is mercifully not confined to cyber-veneration. Peer networks date far back to the trading towns of the early Renaissance. As with the internet, these towns or city states relied on densely populated urban streets where people from many cultures converged. 'While they were trade centres driven by the exchange of private goods, the lack of mature intellectual property laws meant new ideas were free to flow through the network.'
Which brings him on to his other passion, the creative commons -- the notion that intellectual copyright is a holdover from a world of restricted information flows. Johnson is convinced that the future requires open source material, in which all can share. He maintains that even if you do not share his idealism, you should embrace this out of self-interest. 'You may well make more money if you build walls of copyright law around your information but there is no question that you are diminishing the influence of your ideas.'
Reading both books concurrently was a curious experience. I sometimes forgot which author was which, an error all the more unforgivable given the political progeny of each. But they do have much in common. On the debit side, both could do with dousing themselves with a little cold water (but that might not help sales), and they should try a little less hard to shoe-horn their arguments. Yet they both alight on trends that have slipped into the body politic, often unbeknown to its more old-fashioned practitioners.
The conversation has changed, and perhaps so should I. The internet is, I concede, more than a platform. It has changed the pace and, more importantly, the potential for participation. I am not sure we are as far advanced as they would like to believe, but we have moved more quickly into a world of hyper-accountability and peer-networks than we realise.
- Financial Nerve Centres at Risk of Flooding
- The Growth That Never Was
- A Gospel of Wealth
- Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super Rich
- The Cyber Menace
- Cyber Threats: Establishing the First Line of Defense
- Arming The Information Highway Patrol
- Keeping the Global Ship on Course
- Global Governance at Heart of Failed Foreign Policies
- Global Terrorism: Piles of Skulls
- When Terrorists 'Killed' in Drone Strikes Aren't Really Dead
- Stripping Down to 140 Characters
- Revolution through iDemocracy
- Test Driving The Bamboo Bone Shaker
- What Tyrants Fear Most: Social Media
- Dambisa Moyo: 'Winner Take All'
- Nuclear Weapons Could Become Obsolete
- The Moral Equivalent of Nuremberg
- Rushdie: 'Vampires Shrivel in the Sunlight'
- Q&A with Joseph Stiglitz: 'The Price of Inequality'
- Children Often the Targets of Islamic Extremists
- Education Can Replace the Loss of Hope
- United Nations Picks Wrong Education Partners
- Testing the Limits of Globalization
- We're Too Tolerant of Corruption at Home
- No Need for a Witch Hunt Over Executive Pay
- Beyond Money
- 50-Year War Against Drugs Has Failed: A New Approach is Needed
- Drugs Legalization Could Make Things Worse
- Time to Separate Drugs Policy from Crime
- Organized Crime Won't Fade Away
- Is Treating The Symptoms The Way Forward?
- Heads of State Show Lack of Faith in Own Health-Care Systems
- On Drugs and Democracy
- Financial Markets, Politics and the New Reality
- BRICs Should Focus on their Own Problems
- The Persistent Threat to Soft Targets
- The Rich Grabbing Bigger Slices of Pie
- 21 Trillion Dollars Hidden in Tax Havens
(c) 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.