Emergent Democracy Threads

The emergent democracy discussion has attracted various criticisms and defenses.
Richard Bennett suggests that the discussion is pointless, because some of the arguments in favor of emergent democracy are fuzzy, and because politicians aren’t paying any attention.

So I’d like to suggest an exercise for our utopian technologists: show how your technology can affect the passage of a legislative bill on a measure close to your heart; then try to make it happen in real life, and analyze why your expected result didn’t materialize.

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Mitch Ratcliffe is encouraged by the focus on new tools, and believes that it is useful and important to discuss and experiment with new tools. His post includes very nice citations and analysis of the affect of new communications technologies throughout history.
These criticisms and defenses make the discussion sound more monolithic than it actually was.
My perception is that the “emergent democracy” discussions included a variety of opinions, including:

  1. a preference to focus on new tools to facilitate internet discussion and organizing
  2. a history of technology approach; identifying opportunities for new technologies to empower more people to influence and transform the political process
  3. a techno-determinist faith that the internet, blogging, etc. will somehow cause the emergence of an artificial intelligence that will govern us better than a human system of communication, power, and compromise
  4. a belief in the internet as a medium for direct democracy, which will replace and transcend representative democracy

Personally, I agree with the first two points, and disgree with the second two.
Even though I disagree with some of the more radical AI-inflected approaches, I agree strongly with Mitch that it’s valuable to discuss the concepts and experiment with the tools.
And I disagree strongly with Bennett, who argues that it’s pointless to experiment since politicians aren’t listening yet. If these processes aggregate votes and dollars, politicians will start paying attention.

7 thoughts on “Emergent Democracy Threads”

  1. I didn’t actually say that it’s pointless to experiment, I suggested that the ED proponents *should* experiment, because it’s pointless to substitute talk for action in politics, and many forms of Internet-enabled activism have historically done just that.
    I say this as one who’s run political activist blogs since 1995, and has a little experience with both their strengths and their weaknesses.

  2. I guess I generally agree with you. I would say that as the speed and additional feedback mechanisms may cause new types of order and behavior on the Net that we have not experienced before. I would suggest that these could just as often be bad as good. So I don’t have “techno-determinist faith” that it will be a good thing, but that this new technology is going to cause something new to happen. We have the opportunity to influence where these tools go and I think we should try to experiment and guide the tools to be designed to support better democracy while trying to dampen the effects of bad mobs…

  3. Interesting – reminds me of a discussion a few years ago about the extent to which tools are politcally neutral (or not).
    Richard Bennett’s suggestion (“show how your technology can affect the passage of a legislative bill on a measure close to your heart; then try to make it happen in real life, and analyze why your expected result didn’t materialize.”) is valid if you assume that direct influence on policy is a relevant goal. Perhaps it’s not. That’s more of an advocacy position. Democracy is not the same as advocacy. Democracy’s success is in facilitating informed discussion and debate and ensuring participation in the process that determines policy; it’s not about favoring one end over another.

  4. Great thoughts and breakdown on emergent democracy. After reading some thoughts on this, I’ve developed a blog that tries to create a formal framework for democracy through blogging.
    I think what is necessary is a framework for bringing to light problems, proposing new ideas to address these problems, and evaluating the popularity or importance of problems and solutions. I’ve developed a proposal for using blogs to do this. Its on a blog…
    http://democracythroughblogging.blogspot.com/

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