Salsa Scoop> The Allegory of the People In the Cave By the Greek Guy

The Allegory of the People In the Cave By the Greek Guy

"The crisis of today is the joke of tomorrow." -H.G. Wells

It's been a week for the snarling technophobes, eh? While Bush pere was reflecting on the evils of adversarial bloggers and the lucky way he wasn't leaving an IP trail with the email way back when at the Army-Navy game, across the pond, Tony Blair's outgoing spinmeister was heard huffing through the revolving door a remonstrance fast becoming the "uphill both ways" cliche of the pre-Internet pol:

"We have a citizenry which can be caricatured as being increasingly unwilling to be governed but not yet capable of self-government."

The "shrill discourse of demands"? You mean, like this one?

Yes, it's true. Folks can get quite demanding when you coddle the notion that with enough pissing and moaning, they just might get a grievance redressed. Fortunately, adults always have recourse to appropriate measures of discipline ... given, of course, that farseeing fortitude necessary to employ them, in such sadly short supply in these permissive times.

Look, this hurts me a lot more than it hurts you:

Personal Democracy Forum, which flagged this story, riposted with a touch of good government net-triumphalism, to wit:

"The next "big breakthough" of the internet could be a two-way dialogue between rulers and the ruled that produces a new synthesis in how we govern ourselves."

I fear that that while Taylor may be exactly wrong about the Internet, Sifry's version of why he's wrong hasn't established its bona fides either. We can suppose dystopia as easily as utopia. Where Orwell feared domination by brute force, Huxley foresaw the authoritarian potential of license. The Internet, this beast sown of dragon's teeth still stirring in the clay, has as much nascent potential for domination, and through the very powers Taylor decries and Sifry celebrates.

The power of laying political discourse open has long been understood by rulers with an eye towards enlightened self-interest -- the promulgation of republican forms in the industrial core during the 18th and 19th centuries may be taken as prima facie evidence of classical liberalism's efficiency as a governing strategy. Practical princes would rather have a Tom Paine inside the tent pissing out than outside pissing in.

And in such an environment, the "network" might in the end accomplish through ecology what could once only be approached through stupendous social engineering: organize, co-opt, and moderate social disruption to the greater stability of the futures markets.

Power to the edges is not necessarily power reshaped, subverted, or even truly redistributed. Anyone watching the daily collective self-policing of progressive discourse on Democratic blogs in the run-up to the election -- and since the election -- can hardly fail to notice the medium's power to achieve through social shepherding that old Walt Lippmann project.

No wonder the Grey Ladies fret their business model. Manufacturing consent just got outsourced. Like the extension of stockholding down the income chain through mutual funds blurs class identity, the Internet invites us to become at once the inventors and the marks for the next generation of alibis, frames, and non-denial denials. Freedom of the press? Meet blogger. Everyone's free to vent, famous to 15 people, and if you don't like something, click here to take action.

Meanwhile, from the commanding heights, the surge and undertow of public sentiment in its whole becomes utterly transparent and measurable by data-miners, with personal peccadilloes locally logged on the network. The sacrifice of a few privileged scions to YouTube gaffes is a small price to pay for the Panopticon, with, of course the mailed fist ready in extremis, subpoenas for hard drives on standby for emergencies or the occasional aesthetic indulgence.

Free in our dreams, and everywhere in chains? Could this not as easily be the lasting legacy of the Information Age? I put it to that manager, philanthropist, entrepreneur and dominatrix par excellence, Candidia Cruikshanks: How do you mean to govern those incapable of self-government?


Same as it ever was?

I think you've read too much Foucault and not enough Benkler.

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