Full version Direct Democracy And The Internet

Direct Democracy And The Internet

This print version free essay Direct Democracy And The Internet.

Category: Social Issues

Autor: reviewessays 09 February 2011

Words: 1836 | Pages: 8

The spread of the Internet and all the latest developments in communication technology has led many political scientists to debate concepts of direct democracy, which could become realistic under the current circumstances. This essay argues that these revolutionary technological developments are new tools of freedom which can liberate citizens from the grip of the propaganda machines called conventional mass media, which have turned the public discourse into a carnival show of politicians, pop stars, priests, fortune-tellers, psychics, prostitutes - and whatever ugly thing there is in our society, keeping the intelligent and creative citizens hostages to the choices of the manipulated, ignorant masses. The Internet, in particular, with its anarchic structure and its ability to allow full public access to information, can, on one hand, inspire political participation and political creativity, and on the other provide the means for a new way of political organizing and thus lead to the replacement of the present inadequate political system of representative democracy by a new efficient system of governance.

Unlike conventional mass media -television, radio, newspapers, magazines, and films, where a small number of people have the power to determine which information should be made available to the mass audience, this new mass medium which has a potential worldwide reach, can make every member of the audience a potential publisher because of. its ability for interactive communication. This means that the new technology can enable the individual to stop being a part of the mass and become a person who has his own will and his own ability to shape the society he lives in. The existence of such a power may stimulate people's involvement in decision making and awaken their responsibility, so that they start thinking for themselves about finding a way out of the admittedly sick condition of the society we now live in, which is guided and takes direction not from its brain but from the lower instincts of the masses. The first step towards change would be the dissemination of information, which would make people turn their back to the bombardment with messages by the broadcast media monopolies, whose effect is to drive society into habits leading to environmental destruction as well as self-destruction. The only messages people get through conventional media are of the type: Buy garbage, then throw it away and fill the world with waste, and then get sedated, so that you won't feel the discomfort caused by sitting in it. I can't find a more fitting description for conventional media's content, when almost all of it is a direct or gray advertisement of fashion, alcohol, drugs, sick vanity, and porn-shows in the disguise of art. But then again, if a few people have control of who has a voice and who hasn't, and those people are the friends of the governing party who have been given licenses to make money by selling advertising, it is only natural that there can be nothing else on air but advertisements. This also explains why the anarchic nature of the Internet which keeps out this propaganda machine, made it the only channel for all kinds of information that never made it into the mass media. This kind of information by exposing the incompetence of nation-states in performing their duties and thus challenging their role, made it evident that the industrial-era model of representative democracy has eroded and that we need to build a new system of governance. “Democracy in its ideal sense is the notion that "the people" should have the right to rule themselves. This ideal is pursued by implementing a system of voting such that the majority of people rule, either directly or indirectly through elected representatives “(1) We can see from this statement that what we think of as American democracy has slipped from the highest standard of what we believe to be the best form of government.

“Athenian Democracy is generally seen as the earliest example of a system corresponding to some of the modern notions of democratic rule”(1) as well as being recognized as the most successful democratic revolution in history, the Athenian Democracy 2500 years ago, was made possible by a citizenry that was involved in their community and felt responsible for their community and society. That political system raised humanity to a higher level and even today we benefit from its achievements in art, philosophy, and politics. The fundamental basis of the ancient Greek political life was the absolute priority of the community, the polis, over the individual.(2) Citizens enjoyed freedom only in so far as they participated in the political life of their community and, through their actions, sustained its existence and furthered its welfare. However, membership to such a community was not granted to anyone, hence the distinction between Polites(=citizens) and Idiots(=privates). (3) Polites was the citizen who was well informed and could actively participate in all common affairs, while Idiots were those not qualified to participate in decision making and the political process in general. The word 'idiot' owes its current meaning to the fact that Greeks considered the Idiots uncivilized, primitive, apolitic beings. In that political community, all citizens had the right to attend an assembly held more than 40 times a year. The assembly made major decisions and every citizen could speak and vote. Therefore each citizen could directly affect the decision making process. The system also included councils, which drew up the agenda of the assemblies and were made up of citizens that were drawn by lots and served on each council for a year. This system established some principles, which later democracies have followed and for this reason political theorists generally see Ancient Athens as the birthplace of democracy. Those principles were: a) All qualified citizens should have the right to vote and hold office, b) The duty of all citizens is to actively participate in the political process, and c) Majority votes should make decisions. (4)

It is true that the concepts of equality, active participation, inclusive nature, majority rule, and informed opinion are now the basic principles of modern Constitutions all over the world. However, the modern states that now consider themselves to be democracies are run by the process generally known as representative democracy. As in Athenian democracy, the starting-point of modern democracy is the principle that every sane adult is entitled to an equal voice in deciding how they should be governed. “Direct democracy comprises a form of democracy and theory of civics wherein all citizens can directly participate in the political decision-making process. Some proposed systems would give people both judicial and legislative powers, but most extant systems allow input into the legislative process only.”(5) In modern democracies, however, this voice is heard only once every four or five years, in elections in which voters elect those who will represent them, assuming that it will be the interests of the constituents that will be served and not those of the party or the representative's. However the practice of representative elections guarantees exactly the opposite. What the candidates say, guided by commercial agencies, is determined by electoral strategy: they say not what they mean or what they intend to do, but what is believed to attract votes. Recently even the citizens of the most democratic countries have little or no influence on the decisions affecting their lives, because after the elections their representatives, during their term in office, as a rule are not obliged to respect the wishes of their constituents. In other words, the voters have no possibility, in a purely representative democracy, to influence the decisions when the elections are over. Furthermore, it is not a secret any more that all representative democracies are run by special-interest groups that are lobbying government.

Many advocates of technological liberation are discussing online the feasibility of an electronic Athenian type democracy made possible by digital technology, and especially the Internet. The main counter argument is that in the small communities of the Greek antiquity it was easy to have an Athenian type Direct Democracy in which everybody could participate in the decision making process. However, as soon as a political entity grows larger than the number of citizens that can fit in an forum, Direct Democracy could not function in the absence of effective communication means, since the public sphere depends on communication and discussion of ideas. But such effective means are now existent and, even on the scale of the present global population, the vision of an electronic Athenian agora could become practical again . Because the recent advances in communications technology have made it possible for huge numbers of people from everywhere in the world to interact and exchange ideas exactly as if they were talking face to face. Physical distances are no longer an obstacle to maintaining direct contact between the participants in the political process. People no longer need a representative to express their will. They can very well express their will directly and this makes the Representative Democracy system redundant.

More and more people are now interacting electronically on the Net, and building virtual communities independent of location. Cyberspace is gradually substituting all the public places such as the public square, the village church, the park, or the tavern, which in the past served as places for political gathering and discussion. Now such gatherings take place on-line where a new kind of public sphere is taking form, which transcends geography and national identity. This new public sphere transcends also all kinds of hierarchies -of race, class, age, and gender, to a much greater degree than simply seeing someone face to face would, although if some groups learn this more personnel information about you, discrimination can occur, although to a much smaller degree.

For example, by reading the posts in discussion groups, it is rather unlikely to determine information such as a user's age, gender, nationality, or disability. In the new public sphere of the Internet users, democratic processes are conducted in the form of a global scale, decentralized public discourse where everyone is expressing their views and determining their positions on every imaginable issue of common concern.

All the above examples of participatory democracy practices, that we currently see on the Net, are evidence that the new communication technologies enable forms of direct democracy which could not be practical until now, because of the problem of size. Today, it is possible for millions of people to make every political decision directly, without representatives, and make their own contribution to the public debate free of any form of censorship. New opportunities and challenges for political participation make their appearance online every day and make possible the shifting from the mass-based political model of representative democracy to a networked one, which will make the Athenian type participatory democracy a feasible ideal. From what I have read and come to understand through the research of this topic, i believe that someday Direct Democracy using the Internet could become possible, but right now the problem of being both secure and anonymous, makes it difficult.