I’m caught in a blog/email crossfire of brilliant minds so let me share the unexploded rounds:
Mitch fired the first volley.
Mitch Ratcliffe (email, 1/23, 1:40pm est)
David’s essay finally ignited a rant I’ve been contemplating for a while…. http://www.ratcliffe.com/bizblog/2003/01/23.html#a780
Doc’s quoted it too but here’s more. Better you should read it all:
The Age of Connection
David Weinberger has an important essay at Greater Democracy on the meaning of connections, the What that flows over the things people keep focusing on.
Until now, our connectedness has depended on centralized control points that have been the gatekeepers of our economic and political networks. To speak to everyone, you had to be one of the few with access to a broadcast networks. To sell to everyone, you had to be one of the few with access to a global distribution channel. To achieve office, you had to be one of the few with access to corporate coffers and national media….
We are not in the Information Age. We are not in the Age of the Internet. We are in the Age of Connection. To achieve the ideals this country was built on — equality, freedom of speech and thought, the basic fairness that let’s people determine their own destinies — we need everyone connected to everyone else.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, too. Reread Democracy in America over the last week and it seems to me that, with the Bush Administration taking so many clumsily totalitarian steps toward the destruction of its political party, and with the Democrats in almost total disarray and cowering despite Bush’s immense gaffes on the international and domestic fronts, it is time for just one thing: people must elect themselves to make a change.
It is a horrible prospect that the U.S., an immensely connected country, might become submerged by the limits on connections being imposed by the government (granting greater media consolidation a clear field for the final push toward One Big Voice; a spectrum as private property approach to wireless; Total Information Awareness; closing our borders and driving out students from overseas, etc., etc.).
Individuals need to rise up and seize the power they have always had and been urged to forget. Beyond voting, we need to organize and actively debate everything, from the sidewalks in our home towns to the bills before Congress and the ad hoc rulings from the executive branch. We need a parallel government that forces the attention of politicians back to the people and away from the monied interests.
We should use the connections to establish parallel governments at every level, until the governments adopt the dialog by default, which they will do, because American government is still by people and for people at its roots. There are good people in government, and a lot of snails and weasels, too. Give the dedicated civil servant and the earnest legislator a constituency and they can change things in weeks, even days. Decisions can and will be made based on the will of the people through informed and open debate.
In one of those coincidences, David Weinberger and I were exchanging email yesterday about the future of network communications. In it, David expressed real fear and lamented that we haven’t seen our Dr. King, that we need one desperately.
In fact, we need 10,000 Martin Luther Kings, 10,000 Andrew Jacksons, 10,000 Abraham Lincolns, 10,000 Teddy Roosevelts, 10,000 H.L. Menckens, 10,000 Ida Tarbells, 10,000 Bobby Kennedys, 10,000 Thomas Jeffersons, 10,000 Ben Franklins, 10,000 Walt Whitmans, 10,000 Edward R. Murrows. And they should all be arguing with one another and with the “mainstream” thought leaders vociferously. We need what Tocqueville called “birthpangs in progress” to keep the nation astir in order to create as many new movements and collaborations and opportunities as possible.
With connections, we have the power to be the great country we are, but only if we break out of the bonds of waiting for information, waiting for an opportunity to talk, waiting for an opportunity to start a business, waiting for the next election to deal with our frustrations about what the government is doing and, then, only in the abstract. The United States was born in action and we need to return to that heritage NOW.
David Weinberger (email, Jan 23, 3:52pm est)
Mitch, Of course I agree with you. But I also disagree. Sure we need everyone to be a leader. But I think we also need *a* leader, someone who stands for us. Having a leader is like having the right myth. (By the way, we need the right myth, too.)
Mitch Ratcliffe (email, 1/23, 6:26pm est)
David, And, of course, I agree with you. With a caveat: Leadership evolves from a collective effort. Dr. King wasn’t the first or most prominent of the civil rights leaders and there was a vast discussion going on amongst blacks and whites that he stepped to the head of. Lots of little leaders make big ones emerge.
Also, there are a lot of problems right now, not one big one like fighting for civil rights for blacks, which later coalesced with the anti-war movement. The very soul of the nation is under attack from virtually every direction, from inside the borders and outside, which means that we need massive mobilization of will on many fronts.
Doc Searls (email, 1/23, 6:26pm est)
Who’s willing to be a martyr? I mean this literally. Think Ghandi, MLK, RFK, et. al.
Not sure she or he are out there.
Mitch Ratcliffe (email, 1/23, 7:16pm est)
I would happily give my life to make a better world for my children. We all have to think that way. All of us.
Doc Searls (email, 1/23, 10:12pm est)
We do. And yet we don’t.
Because most of us with children can hardly imagine their childrens’ worlds improved by the removal of a parent.
Yet children need heroes. And heroes take risks. Tough stands.
Heroes are also, by definition, if not by statistics, rare.
Not an easy subject. Glad you brought it up.
Mitch Ratcliffe (email, 1/23, 7:16pm est) Doc,
I don’t think the issue is whether a particular
person would die for
their children, but the principle that we must improve our world. Any
immigrant can attest to this.
After all, MLK, RFK, Medgar Evars, the kids at Kent State had no idea
that they would be sacrificed for their causes, they merely recognized
the possibility and went ahead anyway.
Interesting about heroes — the word has been tremendously cheapened by
our current president. It seems like anyone who happened to be awake on
9/11 is a hero according to Shrub.
Marc Cantor (email, 1/23, 12:15pm est)
OK here’s my 2 centavos:
I sat and watched my middle son up on stage tonight. As the tears welled
up, I realized that not only how proud I was of him, but how much of myself
had rubbed off on him. I can’t say I didn’t intend it to happen that way,
’cause I did – but it led me to ponder – differing agendas, different
people’s lives and how to get people to cooperate together.
In the old days – when business was warfare, the victor, bully or Mafia
member – got their way and all else followed (or just went away with their
tail between their legs.)
But if there’s one way to typify the world we’re in today – it’s fragmented,
over populated and noisy. Redundancy runs rampant, contrary efforts are the
norm and even simple linkages, cooperation and what we used to call
‘collaboration’ is hailed as a victory.
I remember when software was architected, refined and solid as a rock. Now
it’s thrown together, simply a single feature and everyone wonders why
they’re not making any money from it.
It’s really not too hard to get people to cooperate – you just have to show
them the benefits of their actions. Linux is good because X, Y & Z.
Life is sort of like a giant pseudo code algorithm:
If – you do this
If – we do this together
THEN – all this cool shit can happen
else – status quo
So I not only nominate Mitch to be a hero and leader, but I will also humbly
accept the draft nomination. This convention has no 2nd round votes, smoke
filled room negotiations or favorite son tickets (though if there EVER was a
favorite son – It’s Doc!)
My father was and still is a politician in Chicago and let me tell you –
it’s ugly out there. Better for us to hide our heads in front of our
screens and use technology as a revolutionary tool.
And though I don’t know Britt, Adina and David – I nominate you too. But
each of us has to get REALLY good at each little Island domain we choose to
lead, and then create bridges between our Islands.
I’m as willing as the next guy to fly a burning airplane into the ground for God and country, but let’s not off ourselves too fast—we need to keep building mind bombs for this noble effort. However, should we get it in writing from, say, 33% of Americans irrevocably committed to thinking and cooperating and conducting heated, civil, fact-based conversations, I bet the five of us on our little email thread would gladly lay down our lives.
For we are here to be of consequence.
Martyrdom is probably no more necessary than it would have been for Gustavus Aldus (inventor of the saddlebag book) to sacrifice himself for the vision of books for every school kid—better he should work on the form factor. The heat we feel right now feels like the friction of unused gears crunching into place.
Just as the Age of Enlightenment may have been the product of unexpected leisure and caffeine (produced on the breaking backs of aborigines everywhere), now also we have an explosion of reasoned debate by people who are learning systems-style thinking from their computers and web publishing tools.
How many of us have felt so usefully engaged since college? Except now we know what we’re talking about. Peaceniks are dialoguing with warbloggers, and all of us having to stand by our archived words. What a remarkable counterpoise to heated rhetoric! How like a civil Town Meeting.
In the marvelous 1990 film Mind Walk, Sam Waterston, John Heard and, most importantly, Liv Ullman walk around Mont. St. Michel, trying to figure out why political leaders can’t make rational decisions. The film is based on The Turning Point by physicist Fritjof (Tao of Physics) Capra and is directed by his brother, Bernt Amadeus Capra. Ullman, a disillusioned physicist whose laser research has been turned into weapons technology, describes how illusory is the physical world and why we all need to start thinking about the systems that make up our reality, and not just political imperatives.
And sure enough, here we are a dozen years later, forced to think in terms of systems, causes and effects, which may be why our heads hurt so much and we can’t find our footing in our current milieu. It’s because we’re just lucky.
I’m convinced we’re at one of those rare historic inflection points, where the formerly reliable center can’t hold and, without the benefit of our imminent history, we flail around wondering why our life isn’t as stable as we think our parents’ was.
Inflection points are like the high school chemistry experiment involving a super-saturated salt solution. Heat a beaker of water short of boiling, add more salt than it could dissolve if cool, then let it cool. Sharply tap the beaker of liquid and clink! it grows salt crystals until it’s all salt and no liquid. A disorganized state spontaneously organizes itself into a structurally coherent crystalline lattice.
This happens periodically in our history:
- All power and property is owned by the king and Magna Carta!
…Monarchy tilts down the slippery slope toward rule by nobles and, God forbid, landless riffraff.
- God, and therefore man, is at the center of the universe and Copernicus!
…We’re a minor planet on an inconsequential sun.
- The Universe is elegant clockwork with all problems solved and Planck!
…Nothing is what it appears to be and matter constantly disappears here and reappears over there.
- The British Empire demonstrates to the ages that northern Europeans are destined to rule the world and Gandhi!
…No colonial power can expect to hold its empire together.
- Governments and centralized media control all messages to the passive populace and Internet!
…Every damn fool is talking with every other fool and working out their own future.
“People must elect themselves to make a change”
That’s the secret, isn’t it, Mitch? We’re like young adults suddenly aware that we can run the show and scared of what we might do. It doesn’t feel
right to let go of the illusory stability that got us here. Our leaders and bosses may have feet of clay, but they’re the only foundation we’ve known.
The solution Mitch offers is to take back the country, not by rising up, but by raising our voices in concert. The best current example is moveon.org, which seems to be forming a pretty well-funded little political party catalyzed by Clinton’s inability to keep his pecker in his pants (Clink!). Is this a great country or what?
But this self-organizing force needs actual crystallization for it to be taken seriously. For that purpose I propose again that, by converting our right to a secret ballot into (Clink!) conspicuously threatened votes, counted and documented before elections, we can give our representatives no choice but to dance to the newly tangible strings of their puppet masters, declared and committed voters:
In the western world, politicians who need our votes are acting like they don’t. They’re behaving like the RIAA, pretending they can treat their customers like thieves. Why do we spend so much time worrying about the RIAA and so little time directly managing our elected toadies?
An online Electoral Collage would be based, of course, on our right to actually vote and to enforce full, fair and equal representation, but the Electoral Collage would see suffrage as a wireline protocol, with other, behavior-based protocols lying on top of voting, like the HTTP overlay on the IP open standard.
The Electoral Collage would be a massive distributed database of real people who have abdicated their secret ballot to advertise their real-time responses to current issues and current outrages. The database would use a kind of namespace to match issues and outrage with politicians and their current actions. Voters would link their next vote with their current values and beliefs so that a politician’s cynical work against choice would publicly guarantee my wife’s vote against him. Combined with other uppity women, some politicians would see that this particular form of cynicism is foolish, at least in his district. (Cynical because few politicians give a rat’s ass about abortion. They do care about the votes of people who care about choice).
Sample Electoral Collage Report:
“The Fleemer amendment to HR 419 has caused a plurality of Mr. Fleemer’s voting constituents to commit to vote him out of office in November. Based on commitment data from 73% of registered voters, It appears that Rep. Fleemer will lose his seat by a 9% margin unless his amendment is withdrawn.
This data has been communicated to Mr. Fleemer’s staff and is summarized at http://www.electoralcollage.com/fleemer."
I don’t know if I’d give my life for that capability, but I have registered electoralcollage.com. Why did I register the domain? Because I could! Just another example of Internet NEA at work
If someone has the chops to build the web application, they can have the domain.
Meanwhile, I’ve got to get back to work on our little microeconomy. Because I can.