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<nettime> Net.activism and Open Source Politics
Jon Lebkowsky on Wed, 10 Nov 2004 08:53:39 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Net.activism and Open Source Politics

Originally posted at Worldchanging.com

When I first wrote "Nodal Politics"
<http://www.mindjack.com/feature/nodal.html>  in 1997 as part of an
unpublished book on Internet activism, I suggested that the Internet
could support effective activist work:

Computer networks route information laterally through nodes or routing
points. This makes for a distribution of information that is from many
to many with no single, established point of origination. Information
can originate from any point in the network, and virtually explode in
all directions. 

This ultimately changes the way that we experience information, and a
change in the distribution or flow of information has a clear impact
on power structures and the way that those structures work. The nodal
model acknowledges and facilitates complexity. It allows for an
accelerated "word of mouth": a single email message can be replicated
to thousands of recipients in a matter of minutes. Each recipient in
turn can replicate to thousands more. Given effective networks you can
quickly reach millions through email and Web technologies.

It took some time, but the with a critical mass of citizens online and
the social software explosion of the last couple of years, the
mainstreaming of net.activism has begun, and political use of Internet
technology is rapidly evolving as tools like Civicspace
<http://www.civicspacelabs.org/>  and Advokit
<http://www.advokit.net/> , both projects that emerged from the work
of progressive activist developers that supported Howard Dean's more
or less tech-savvy campaign.

Micah Sifry has just written "The Rise of
<http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20041122&s=sifry> Open Source
Politics" for The Nation, an essay noting that "new tools and
practices born on the Internet have reached critical mass, enabling
ordinary people to participate in processes that used to be closed to
them." Sifry applies the label "open source politics" to the emerging,
contemporary version of "nodal politics":

Open-source politics is still a long way off. The term "open source"
specifically refers to allowing any software developer to see the
underlying source code of a program, so that anyone can analyze it and
improve it; better code trumps bad code, and programmers who have
proven their smarts have greater credibility and status. Applied to
political organizing, open source would mean opening up participation
in planning and implementation to the community, letting competing
actors evaluate the value of your plans and actions, being able to
shift resources away from bad plans and bad planners and toward better
ones, and expecting more of participants in return. It would mean
moving away from egocentric organizations and toward network-centric

Near the end of his piece, Sifry quotes Music for America's Josh
Koenig: "We're only seeing the first drips of what is going to be a

All the political technology in the world won't help us, though, if we
don't figure out how to think about the political and social problems
that we are facing. Glenn Smith of Drive  <http://drivedemocracy.org/>
Democracy has written a compelling new book,
Politics of Deceit, that provides a framework for thinking about
democratic renewal. Glenn is discussing
<http://user.well.com/iengaged.cgi?c=inkwell.vue&f=0&t=229&q=0-> his
book and his thinking on The WELL. He notes that the word "freedom"
can have different meanings, and he focuses on two potential
perspectives based on "freedom to will" vs "freedom to experience."
Freedom to will is a freedom to assert individual or group will over
the rest of the world, while freedom to experience is the freedom to
live without arbitrarily imposed constraints. The origin of freedom to
will is in the Cartesian concept of human nature bifurcated "into cool
reason and unruly emotion and desire that must be tamed." From the
discussion on the WELL:

Soon this idea of the divided self can be expanded to something wider
than a single embodied being. It can become a social whole, a state, a
cult, an ethnic group of which the individual is but a member. The
group, then, is justified in taming and controlling other, more unruly
individuals, in just the way the bifurcated individual wills his
emotions to conform to his reason.

Smith defines the alternate vision of "freedom to experience" as
"actualizing and enhancing the human, which we cannot divide into
reason and emotion." Smith, like his colleague George Lakoff, makes an
analysis based on the fundamentals of human nature, and this may prove
more essential than the oppositional thinking that consumes so much of
the energy of partisan political movements and entities. 

This is an example of one compelling way of thinking about society and
politics; there can be more, and it is in exploring the fundamental
human elements of political reality that we can move toward
transformation. Online communication will help, but face-to-face
communication is essential. Let's Talk America
<http://letstalkamerica.org/>  was formed to support ongoing
facilitated discussions across the U.S., a "growing movement to take
American politics from diatribe to dialogue." The group was formed
based on a "we the people"
<http://letstalkamerica.org/declaration.htm> declaration: "we commit
ourselves and our communities of interest to foster dialogue across
the many divides in America, in large and small groups, to build
trust, insight, and inspired action toward the more perfect union we
all desire." Nothing here about partisanship... the idea here is that
people who have different beliefs not only can sit together and engage
in civil conversation, but can do so as an effective political act
that is democratic rather than partisan.

Politics-as-usual go on, but promising political activities and
conversations are percolating behind the scenes, and the greatest hope
is that we can heal the potentially catastrophic divisions within the
U.S. and the world and find a way to live meaningful, sustainable
lives where conflict is mitigated by a commitment to civility.

Posted by Jon Lebkowsky at November 8, 2004 06:39 PM | TrackBack

Jon Lebkowsky

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