Ian Dickson on Sun, 20 Apr 2003 17:43:50 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> The Second Superpower (FWD)

In message <200304201256.h3KCuqf28088@bbs.thing.net>, Elnor Buhard 
<buhard@mail.com> writes
>one possible solution to the power imbalance....  question remains how 
>such an international nation could actually manifest its power 
>militarily, which seems to be the bottom line sadly enough.....  eb
>The Second Superpower Rears its Beautiful Head
>James F. Moore
>Berkman Center for Internet & Society
>Monday, March 31, 2003
>There is an emerging second superpower, but it is not a nation. 
>Instead, it is a new form of international player, constituted by the 
>"will of the people" in a global social movement. The beautiful but 
>deeply agitated face of this second superpower is the worldwide peace 
>campaign, but the body of the movement is made up of millions of people 
>concerned with a broad agenda that includes social development, 
>environmentalism, health, and human rights. This movement has a 
>surprisingly agile and muscular body of citizen activists who identify 
>their interests with world society as a whole-and who recognize that at 
>a fundamental level we are all one. These are people who are attempting 
>to take into account the needs and dreams of all 6.3 billion people in 
>the world-and not just the members of one or another nation. Consider 
>the members of Amnesty International who write letters on behalf of 
>prisoners of conscience, and the millions of Americans who are 
>participating in email actions!
> against the war in Iraq. Or the physicians who contribute their time 
>to Doctors Without Borders/ Medecins Sans Frontieres.

Pull the other one, it's got cruise missiles on it.

To be a Superpower requires, first and foremost, POWER.

For all the will in the world there is not, and, for time being at least,
will not be, any superpower to rival the US.

The massed ranks of Greenpeace, Amnesty, and all the others cited are of
immensely savvy pressure groups and campaign organisations, but, as
someone once asked "how many battalions has the Pope?"

Also to assume that all members of such organisations are united even
behind their organisations stance is ludicrous.

I send Greenpeace money every month, and I've been on actions, because I
support their environmental work. I'm big on the Green, but I have no
doubt that my views on the recent war were very different to most of those
at the top of Greenpeace.

>Thus the new superpower demonstrates a new form of "emergent democracy" 
>that differs from the participative democracy of the US government. 
>Where political participation in the United States is exercised mainly 
>through rare exercises of voting, participation in the second 
>superpower movement occurs continuously through participation in a 
>variety of web-enabled initiatives. And where deliberation in the first 
>superpower is done primarily by a few elected or appointed officials, 
>deliberation in the second superpower is done by each individual-making 
>sense of events, communicating with others, and deciding whether and 
>how to join in community actions. Finally, where participation in 
>democracy in the first superpower feels remote to most citizens, the 
>emergent democracy of the second superpower is alive with touching and 
>being touched by each other, as the community works to create wisdom 
>and to take action.

Please don't talk about these groups as being democratic. Ever been inside
one? There is as much political infighting and power games going on at the
upper levels of most of these groups as in any other. As to participatory,
yes, but only in so far as people choose to get involved.  This is no
different to the structure of normal political parties. It's just that in
most cases the agenda is narrower because the organisation has a
deliberately narrow focus, unlike those that seek to run countries. > >How
does the second superpower take action? Not from the top, but from >the
bottom. That is, it is the strength of the US government that it >can
centrally collect taxes, and then spend, for example, $1.2 billion >on
1,200 cruise missiles in the first day of the war against Iraq. By
>contrast, it is the strength of the second superpower that it could
>mobilize hundreds of small groups of activists to shut down city >centers
across the United States on that same first day of the war. And >that
millions of citizens worldwide would take to their streets to rally.

This very much highlights just exactly why you can't call the movement a

>In the same sense as the ants, the continual distributed action of the 
>members of the second superpower can, I believe, be expected to 
>eventually prevail.

Only if they represent consensus. It is very easy to argue that the
majority of Americans backed the war, but, because they have a tradition
of allowing reasonable objections, were fine about letting the dissenters
blow off steam harmlessly.

To argue that the Government will eventually do what it thinks most of the
people think is the right thing to do is to simply reflect political
reality in a reasonably democratic environment. Look how what began in the
UK as an anti state position supported by a few wild Tory radicals in the
early 1970's gained so much ground that by 1997 the Labour Party had
co-opted it as party policy, and now only Old Labour object to the view
that, where possible (key word, possible, allows much debate on detail),
the State should set rules, and perhaps provide money, but NOT be the
means of delivery.

>By contrast, it is difficult in the US government system to champion 
>policy goals that have broad, long-term value for many citizens, such 
>as environment, poverty reduction and third world development, women's 
>rights, human rights, health care for all. By contrast, these are 
>precisely the issues to which the second superpower tends to address 
>its attention.

It isn't difficult for the US Gvt to deal with these issues, it just
doesn't yet believe that the majority of Us citizens would keep them in
power if they did. The job of those who care about these issues is to make
them part of the consensus so that whoever is elected tries to do

Of course some would argue that the US Gvt DOES care about some of these
issues, and the debate is really about the means being used to tackle
them. For example - Is poverty best dealt with by giving money to the
poor, or giving them access to jobs by removing protectionism?

>With its mind enhanced by Internet connective tissue, and international 
>law as a venue to work with others for progressive action, the second 
>superpower is starting to demonstrate its potential.

People should be careful with language and assumptions.

The Printing Press did many things, it brought people together. It spread
ideas. It generated centuries of lethal turmoil in Europe. It helped the
Nazis. It helped the Communists.

Technology progresses, but to assume that the political views of the early
adopters of technology are in any way indicative of the way that that
technology will impact on the political future is so naive.

It is fair to say that everyone I have ever met who was at all political
has always viewed themselves as progressive. SPUC are convinced that they
are progressive in the fact of mass murder. Greenpeace are progressive.
New Labour are convinced that they are progressive.

At the end of it all this article basically said "the internet allows
ideas to be spread, some of them will become popular and they should
eventually result in actual action". All of which I agree with, none of
which implies any kind of second superpower.

ian dickson                                  www.commkit.com
phone +44 (0) 1452 862637                    fax +44 (0) 1452 862670
PO Box 240, Gloucester, GL3 4YE, England

           "for building communities that work"

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