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Re: <nettime> Frank Rieger: We lost the War--Welcome to the World of Tom
Prem Chandavarkar on Tue, 10 Jan 2006 18:18:19 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> Frank Rieger: We lost the War--Welcome to the World of Tomorrow

> Democracy is already over
> By its very nature the western democracies have become a playground for 
> lobbyists, industry interests and conspiracies that have absolutely no 
> interest in real democracy. 

Was it ever there?  If we believe that democracy is some system that 
allows majority public opinion to prevail over special interests, then 
we never had such a system.  See the book by John Allen Paolos "A 
Mathematician Reads the Newspaper".

Paolos gives the example of gun control in America (and I stress the 
point that gun control can be treated here as a hypothetical example - I 
have quoted this argument elsewhere and got sidetracked into debating 
the rights and wrongs of gun control, which is totally besides the point 
being made here).

He mentions that many opinion polls show that 80% of the American public 
favours some form of gun control.  But despite such an overwhelming 
majority opinion no politician will touch it.  He points out that it is 
not a question of a majority opinion compared to a minority opinion that 
determines how decisions get taken in democratic politics.  Rather it is 
how that majority and minority respectively break down within themselves.

Of the 20% that oppose gun control (NRA members, etc.), 75% of them are 
so fanatical about it that they will make a voting decision solely on 
this basis.  This decision is easy to make because the issue to them is 
black or white.  75% of 20% comprises 15% of the electorate.

Of the 80% who favour gun control, they support it amongst a wide range 
of other ethical issues.  Morever, there are many shades of grey here, 
as they are not unified on the level of control they desire.  Only 5% of 
this group will make a voting decision on this issue alone (perhaps 
because they have been victims of a gun related crime).  5% of 80% 
comprises 4% of the electorate.

So you have 15% of the electorate on one side, and 4% on the other.  The 
11% differential is enough to swing any election and all the politicians 
know it.  Therefore, democracy is not about majorities and minorities. 
It is determined by how the debate coalesces around single cause issues.

It is tempting to believe that resistance can be constructed through 
articulating our own single cause issues.  But could we pick one?? 
Groups with political ideals as found here on Nettime tend to revolve 
around complex and nuanced ethical attitudes, together with a propensity 
to continuously debate and share.  This will prevent any crystallisation 
into a single-cause issue.

But more important - single cause issues are inextricably embedded into 
power politics for they involve constructing generalised 
representations.  People get lumped into homogeneous categories such as 
'Islamic terrorist' or 'American imperialist'.  What gets glossed over 
is the fact that categories such as 'Islamic' and 'American' actually 
cover groups whose complexity and heterogeneity is far too great to 
collapse into a single label.

Ethics can perhaps be discussed at an abstract level, but it comes most 
alive when the scale of relationships allows people to be named and 
differentiated?  How do we build on such foundations through hierarchies 
of scale that eventually construct a political system?  What potential 
for this is provided by recent technologies of communication - the 
emergence of netizens?

To end on a (somewhat) optimistic note - while the democratic system we 
have today is deeply flawed, it is still a vast improvement over the 
feudal and colonial systems that preceded it.  In the late 17th century 
people would have categorically stated that such a thing as democracy 
could never exist.  But it did come about, and the roots lay in writings 
of individuals such as Locke and Rousseau.  And their writings also must 
have had roots in some anonymous conversation somewhere.  Everything 
(including major global change) has its roots in obscure anonymity.  We 
may not see the change in our lifetime, but we must keep plugging away 
(and perhaps take some comfort in the fact that the rate of change has 
speeded up since the 17th century).


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