Democracy. What’s it actually “for” then?

This one’s been ruminating for a while… It comes in the wake of a) the Digital Economy Bill passing in the UK (I’m British) and b) the Public Acta meeting in New Zealand (I’m a Kiwi)


Part 1)

This is a stupid (no, really, it is stupid) piece of legislation, partly drafted by the BPI, and corralled by the unelected Peter Mandelson (who’s had to resign in disgrace, twice, but who is back)… which among other things, grants the said Lord Mandelson, the right to make up laws on the fly.

We protested – I personally wrote two letters to my MP, as did 20,000 other people…

… because it was really important…

… and only 40 of the useless cunts bothered to turn up. It was a whipped vote – which means it was driven from the top.

So the DEbill went through. There was nothing we could do about it. Our parliamentary system failed. Again.

All over the world (and by that, I mean the countries I know about… New Zealand, The UK, The US, Aus) confidence in democracy is being profoundly shaken. People fucking hate politicians. These are the people we elect – this shouldn’t happen.

Democracy’s role has become “Make up laws for lobbyists and pass them if no one protests”. In the UK, they’re passed regardless – MPs preferring the collateral damage of voter ire to offending the party hierarchy. A million people took to the streets in London in protest of the Iraq war. We were completely ignored. 20,000 people wrote to their MPs over the DEbill. We were completely ignored.

Confidence has been shaken in both the UK and NZ over systemic expenses scandals – where MPs pilfer the public purse – for holidays and duck-ponds etc… but the photo above is the thing that does it for me. Excuse me, but what the fuck are you people actually for?

Behind all this (and worse) though is this general sense of disenfranchisement – from teabaggers to greenies… we all feel disempowered – because really, there is no difference between the major parties.

And this is the Empire Strikes Back year for the internet – this is the year where governments in collusion with the old entertainment industry (owned now by major corporations or shell companies – the Gordon Geckos of this world) are attacking the internet (and therefore us) on every front. This is the year when we really need our elected leaders to act in our interests – instead of just fucking failing.

Here’s that picture again.

You see all those empty spaces? Those are our elected representatives. Failing.

Part 2)

So on the 8th I went to the #publicACTA meeting in Wellington. It’s purpose was to draft a set of recommendations to give to NZ ACTA negotiators. These needed to be phrased in legalese, and not be so far outside the scope of the negotiation that they be rejected out of hand.

About 100 people turned up – a selection of lawyers, geeks, tech entrepreneurs etc. People who actually understand the internet – who understand the ramifications of 2nd-party liability.

What happened was this:

1) Some people got up and made some speeches, outlining the issues.

2) we were randomly split up into (about 10) groups to brainstorm what we thought the points in the draft should be.

3) these were read out, and the most commonly raised issues were combined into a rough draft.

4) we split into groups again to re-word these issues to make them sound reasonable and legalesey

5) these were read out, and transcribed in real time (with guidance from the floor) and at about 7pm that evening the final draft was completed.

This is it.

Now it seemed to me that this was a pretty good way of creating legislation – or at least proposals for it. Maybe it was because everyone there was more or less in agreement before we started – there was one guy who tried to raise the Entertainment Industry POV, but this POV is based on a willful misunderstanding – and once this was cleared up there really wasn’t anywhere else for him to go argument-wise.

This process seemed a lot better than the current system – which has become worse than useless.

Government by Referendum is a bad idea – they have it in California and it is a farce. It is a carte-blanche handing of power to whoever owns the media companies, and whoever has the most money to buy their services. Government by Referendum is basically just handing the car keys to Rupert Murdoch…. the Public ACTA process was pretty good though – I think it should be a crucial part of ALL legislation… in fact I’m not sure that politicians should be deciding policy at all. They’re not good enough at it.

Clay Shirky pointed out that a society with a printing press is qualitatively different to one without. A society with an internet is qualitatively different to one without.

Which begs the question “how?”

How is it different?

Well… the last time around, the improvement in people’s ability to communicate with each other, resulted in them demanding democracy. It took a long time before democracy supplanted monarchy… but it happened. It also created a schism in the Church, and led to a whole raft of social reforms, ranging from Women’s Rights to the rise of science and rationalism. Rationalism and Humanism are really just extensions of Protestantism… or more accurately,Protestantism is a compromise… a key-frame along a route from (informational) tyranny to… something else. Rational Humanism I suppose.

The faster the memosphere, the more purely our organisations reflect our societal atomic structure.

So. The Protestant Revolution is still going on – the characteristics that define it are still echoing and perculating through our societies… and these characteristics are being accelerated by the internet. It’s the same revolution… The Catholic Church (for example) looks like it might need to schism again… along much the same lines, and for much the same reasons as last time.

The Church is thankfully no longer the (murdering, torturing) power that it was – these days power is a compromise between the state (that to a greater or lesser extent (even in tyrannies) exists as a result of public indulgence), and the corporations – who are the new globalised aristocracy – a baronial class, enslaved to a type of psychopathic mathematical formula, designed to transfer money upwards. They try to represent this formula as being a law of nature. It isn’t.

Parliamentary democracy evolved as a set of compromises between the interests of wealthy/powerful concerns and the commons. It needs to evolve again.

Some characteristics of a wired population are

1) Secrecy is a lot harder to maintain, and The Internet comes down with great force and furious anger upon anyone who tries to censor it.

Obviously govts all over the world are trying to censor it.

The main sword that the internet weilds is exposure. People laugh at slactivists – but it’s the slactivists that push one of the only levers we have to move those in power: exposure. We will force transparency upon you.

2) The amount of engagement we (the people) have in the decisions that affect us is no longer enough.

This is partly because our govts so reliably make bad decisions – that they force upon us even though we protest… but this sense of disenfranchisement cuts across the board. Right wing nutters and europhobes feel just as disenfranchised as the rest – in fact the army of cranks who would formerly write highly disturbing letters to the papers, number highly among the new rash of people offering themselves as alternative candidates.

This isn’t democratic though – the crank (and I use that word guardedly, but from a policy POV he is) who is running in my own constituency is not particularly interested in representing the views of his constituency – he just wants to promote is own anti-EU, climate-change-denying, war-supporting, “lefty”-fearing agenda. There was no public consultancy involved in arriving at this agenda…. if there was… if he organised a #publicACTA type set of meetings he’d get:

a) a manifesto diametrically opposed to his own

b) engaged and invested supporters

c) a better manifesto.

Here’s a short observation from Justin Carter at the ACTA thing. I’m including this because before he got up and spoke, I was ready to storm the Bastille. We don’t live in that age any more though. The way through this is not violence or confrontation, but killer frames – clarifying catalysts that dissolve and realign.

And a short observation from me:

No legislation should be considered before the metrics for gauging its success are agreed.