DEMOCRACY AND CYBERSPACE - parts 5- 8
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CONTENTS, #9.74 (Wed, Oct 15, 1997)
File 1--DEMOCRACY AND CYBERSPACE - parts 5-8
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Date: Thu, 9 Oct 1997 12:27:45 +0100
From: "Richard K. Moore" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: File 1--DEMOCRACY AND CYBERSPACE - parts 5-8
((MODERATORS NOTE: Following, as a special issue, are the
concluding four parts of Richard Moore's "Democracy and
Cyberspace. See CuD 9.71 for the first four parts"))
DEMOCRACY AND CYBERSPACE
Copyright 1997 by Richard K. Moore
Propaganda and democracy
As Noam Chomsky so competently documents in "Manufacturing Consent",
propaganda has always been an essential mechanism in the machinery of
democracy, the primary means by which the elite insure that their own
interests are not overwhelmed by what Samuel P. Huntington refers to
as the "excesses of democracy" and what James Madison referred to as
Ownership of media, as a means to influence public opinion and
ultimately the policies of government, has always been used to
advantage by the economic elite in democracies - in the ongoing see-
saw struggle for power. Popular movements have also made effective
use of the media, from time to time, but in today's increasingly
concentrated media industry, elite control over public opinion is for
all intents and purposes total. It is so total, in fact, that just
as a fish is not aware of the water through which he swims, one
sometimes forgets how constrained the scope of public debate has
Madison avenue techniques applied to campaigns, including focus on
sound-bites, turns political campaigns into little more than
advertising episodes, much like the release of a new toothpaste or
hairspray. This has long characterized the situation in the U.S., and
with Blair's takeover of the Labor Party, we've seen the same
paradigm ported to the UK.
Even opposition to the status quo is channeled and deflected by media
emphasis, as with the militia movements (and Perot and Buchanan
candidacies) in the U.S. and the National Front movements in UK and
France, which are exploited so as to _define_ anti-globalist
sentiment as being reactionary, ultra-nationalist, luddite, and
racist; similarly environmental sentiments are regularly interpreted
as being anti-labor, anti-prosperity, "elitist", etc.
Demonization of governments and politicians - ie, blaming government
for the problems caused by globalism and excessive corporate
influence - is perhaps the single most potent coup of the mind-
control media in promoting the decline of democratic institutions and
the rise of globalism.
Globalization itself further exemplifies the potency of media
propaganda. The rhetoric of neoliberalism, with its "reforms" and
"market forces" and "smaller government", is not just a _position_
within the scope of public debate, but has come to be the very
_frame_ of debate. Politicians and government leaders rarely debate
_whether_ to embrace globalization, but compete instead to espouse
national policies that _best accommodate_ the demands of
As media itself is being globalized and concentrated, it is no
surprise that globalization propaganda is one of its primary
products. Whether the vehicle be feature film, network news,
advertisement, panel discussion, or sit-com, the presumption of the
inevitability of the market-forces system and the bankruptcy of
existing political arrangements always comes through loud and clear -
even when the future's dark side is being portrayed.
The propagandistic success of this barrage is especially amazing in
light of the utter bankruptcy of the neoliberal philosophy itself.
The whole experience of the robber-baron era has simply vanished from
public memory, in true Orwellian fashion, as we are told that market
forces and deregulation are "modern" efficiencies, the brilliant
result of state-of-the-art economic genius.
This historical revision by omission has the consequence that no one
brings up the fact that these policies have been tried before and
were found sorely wanting - that they led to economic instability,
monopolized markets, cyclical depressions, political corruption,
worker exploitation, and social depravity - and that generations of
reform were required to re-introduce competition into markets, to
stabilize the financial system, and to institute more equitable
The regulatory regimes that were in place before the Reagan-Thatcher
era were there for very good reason - they adjudicated, with varying
effectiveness, between society's desire for stability and citizen
welfare, on the one hand, and the corporate desire for maximizing
profits, on the other.
These regimes implemented a generally reasonable accommodation
between the interests of the elite and the people. But, with the
help of today's media propaganda, everyone now "knows" that
regulations are nothing more than the counter-productive ego-trips of
well or ill-meaning politico bureaucrats who have nothing better to
do than interfere in other people's business.
Again in Orwellian fashion, today's "reforms" are in fact the
_dismantlement_ of reforms - reforms which accomplished the
moderation of decades of market-forces abuse. The power of the media
to define and interpret events, and to set the context in which
public discussion is framed, is immense. Old wine can be presented
in new vessels, and black can be presented as white, as long as the
message is repeated often enough and the facts that don't fit are
never given airtime.
The mass media is the front line of corporate globalist control - the
very trenches in the battle to maintain elite domination; this fact,
in addition to market forces, adds extra urgency to the pace of
global media concentration. The central political importance of
corporate-dominated mass media to the globalization process, and to
elite control generally, must be kept in mind when attempting to
predict the fate of Internet culture when commercial cyberspace
begins to come online.
In this regard, the treatment of cyberspace and Internet in the
mass-media over the past few years lends some portending insights.
There are two quite different images that are typically presented,
one commercially oriented and the other not.
The first image, frequently presented in fiction or in futuristic
documentaries, is about the excitement of cyber adventures, the
thrill of virtual reality, and the promise of myriad online
enterprises. This commercially oriented image is projected with a
positive spin, and suddenly every product and organization on the
block includes a www.My.Logo.com on its packaging and advertising,
with in many cases only symbolic utility. Madison avenue is selling
cyberspace - but it's selling the commercial version yet to be
implemented, it's pre-establishing a mass-market demand.
The other image, very much anchored in today's Internet technology,
has to do with sinister hackers, wacko bomb conspirators, and luring
pedophiles. Those of us who use the net daily find such stories
ludicrous and unrepresentative, but because we dismiss such stories
we may not realize that for much of the general population, that's
all they hear about today's Internet.
If you'll permit me a personal anecdote - but a not atypical one...
at the bank where my girl friend works, here in rural Ireland, the
subject of Internet came up among some of the workers. None of them
had ever been online, yet their unhesitating sentiment was that
they'd never let their kids near that evil network, where they'd be
immediately assaulted by obscene material and indecent proposals.
The infamous Time article on Cyberporn, for example, was pure
demonization propaganda - blatantly deceptive and sensationalist -
and standard publication procedures were surreptitiously violated in
order to get it printed. But the effect of the original publication
on the general public was in no way undone by the mild apologies that
were later offered.
The U.S. CDA (censorship) initiative, whose passage was assisted in
no small measure by the well-timed article, was fortunately rejected
by the U.S. Supreme Court. But the defamation campaign against the
non-economic Internet continues, in ironic contrast to the boosting
images of its commercial future cousin (where no doubt the commercial
pornographic offerings will in fact be equally graphic).
The relationship between cyberspace and democracy is a complex one
indeed. Internet culture, as the seeming prototype for future
cyberspace experience, has enabled a renaissance of open public
discussion - a peek at a more open democratic process. But this
phenomenon has been experienced by a relatively tiny minority of the
world's population, and may in fact not survive the commercial
On the contrary, as universal transport for mass-media products,
cyberspace may in fact become the delivery vehicle for even more
sophisticated manipulation of public opinion. Rather than the
realization of the democratic dream, cyberspace may turn out instead
to be the ultimate Big-Brother nightmare.
In a world where most significant physical and financial events will
involve online transactions, and in a world where backdoors are built
into encryption algorithms and communications switches, everyone's
every move is an open book to those who have the keys to the net
nervous system - which would include government agents (on the basis
of legality) as well as the operators of the system (on the basis of
opportunity and laissez-faire non-oversight).
>From the accounting records alone, there would be a complete trail of
almost everything anyone does, and the privacy of this information
(from government, police, credit bureaus, advertisers, direct
mailers, political strategists, etc.) is far from guaranteed.
Systematic massive surveillance by government agencies would be
extremely easy, with the ability to track (undetected) purchases and
preferences, financial transactions, physical location, persons and
groups communicated with, and the content of communications. There
is even the possibility of surreptitious gathering of audio and video
signals from home sets which are thought to be "off" (one up on
"1984"), and the remote overriding of home security systems,
automobile functions (windows, engine), etc.
In particular, no sizable group (such as a political organization or
a public-interest group) could exist without having its every
deliberation and activity being monitorable by government agencies,
depending on how interested the authorities are in its activities.
| The FBI draft would take two extraordinary steps. It would
| prohibit the manufacture, sale, import or distribution within
| the United States of any encryption product unless it contains a
| feature that would create a spare key or some other trap door
| allowing "immediate" decryption of any user's messages or files
| without the user's knowledge.
| In addition, it would require all network service providers
| that offer encryption products or services to their customers to
| ensure that all messages using such encryption can be
| immediately decrypted without the knowledge of the customer.
| This would apply to telephone companies and to online service
| providers such as America Online and Prodigy.
| -The Center for Democracy and Technology,
| CDT POLICY POST, September 8, 1997
Mandatory chip-based ID cards or even implants may seem fanciful to
many, but the number of government and commercial initiatives in
those directions worldwide is cause for serious alarm. Such devices
would turn each citizen into an involuntary leaf node of the
cyberspace network, his chip being remotely monitorable from who-
knows-how many scanning stations, visible or otherwise.
| Building on the present national photo-id card, the Korean
| ID Card Project involves a chip-based ID card for every adult
| member of the population. It is to include scanned
| fingerprints, and is intended to support the functions of a
| multi-purpose identifier, proof of residence, a driver's
| licence, and the national pension card.
| - Roger Clarke,
| "Chip-Based ID: Promise and Peril"
In summary, cyberspace promises not not only to be the ultimate
commercial delivery channel for the mass media industry, but its very
nature provides the opportunity for the mind-control aspects of the
mass media to be carried out with incredible precision, and with full
feedback-knowledge of who is actually receiving which information,
and even what they are saying to their friends about it.
Cyberspace could turn out to be the ideal instrument of power for the
elite under globalism - giving precise scientific control over what
gets distributed to whom on a global basis, and full monitoring of
everything everyone does (and the accounting records are always there
to go back and follow past trails when desired).
Some readers may find the above scenario far-fetched; they may react
with "It can't happen here". I would ask them "What is there to stop
it?". The corporate domination of societal information flows is an
inherent part of the seemingly unstoppable globalization process. We
turn now from this "end view" of the scenario to an examination of
how events are likely to unfold...
Cyberspace: whose utopia?
The law doth punish man or woman
That steals the goose from off the common,
But lets the greater felon loose,
That steals the common from the goose.
- Anon, 18th cent., on the enclosures.
One can think of digital cyberspace as a kind of utopian realm, where
all communication wishes can be granted. The question is who's going
to be running this utopian realm? We net users tend to assume we'll
waltz into this utopia and use it for our creative purposes, just as
we have Internet. But there are others who have designs on this
utopia as well. It is a frontier toward which more than one set of
pioneers have their wagons ready to roll.
We're willing to pay a few cents per hour for our usage (and we
complain of _any_ usage charges), and our need for really high per-
user bandwidth is yet to be demonstrated. The media industry, on the
other hand, can bring a huge existing traffic onto cyberspace - a
traffic with much higher value-per-transaction than email and web
hits, and a traffic that can gobble up lots of bandwidth. We want to
pay commodity prices for transport, while the media industry is
willing to pay whatever it needs to - and it can pass on its costs to
>From a purely economic perspective, the interests of the media
industry could be expected to dominate the rules of the road in
cyberspace - just as the well-funded land developer can always out-
bid the would-be homesteader. Whether it be purchasing satellite
spectrum or lobbying legislatures, deep-pockets tend to get their
But economic considerations may not be most decisive in setting the
rules of the cyberspace road - the political angle may be even more
important. Continued mass-media domination of information
distribution systems is necessary if the media is to play its
accustomed role as shepherd of public opinion. This role, as we have
seen, is mission-critical to the continuance of the globalization
process and to elite societal control in general.
It is instructive in this regard to review the history of the radio
industry in 1920s America...
| In the 20's there was a battle. Radio was coming along,
| everyone knew it wasn't a marketable product like shoes. It's
| gonna be regulated and the question was, who was gonna get hold
| of it? Well, there were groups, (church groups, labor unions
| were extremely weak and split then, and some student groups)...
| who tried to organise to get radio to become a kind of a public
| interest phenomenon; but they were just totally smashed. I mean
| it was completely commercialized. - Noam Chomsky
Other nations followed a different track (BBC et al), but this time
around it is the U.S. model that is predominating, as we have
The twin _drivers_ in the commercial monopolization process are
_economic necessity_ (squashing competition from independents for
audience attention) and _political necessity_ (maintaining control
over public opinion).
The _mechanisms_ of domination include concentrated ownership of
infrastructure, licensing bureaucracies, information property rights,
libel laws, pricing structures, creation of artificial distribution
scarcity, and "public interest" censorship rules. These tactics have
all been used and refined throughout the life of electronic media
technology, starting with radio, and their use can be expected as
part of the cyberspace commercialization process.
Indeed, the first signs of each of these tactics is already becoming
evident. The U.S. Internet backbone has been privatized;
consolidation of ownership is beginning in Telecom and in ISP
services; WIPO (World Information Property Organization) is setting
down over-restrictive global copyright rules, which the U.S. is
embellishing with draconian criminal penalties; content restrictions
are cropping up all over the world, boosted by ongoing anti-Internet
propaganda; pricing is being turned over increasingly to "market
forces" (where traditional predatory practices can operate); chilling
libel precedents are being set; and moves are afoot to centralize
domain-name registration, beginning what appears to be a slippery
slide toward ISP licensing. And these are still very early days in
the commercialization process.
Consider the U.S. Telecom Reform Bill of 1996. Theoretically, it is
supposed to lead to "increased competition" - but what does that
mean?. there is a transition period, during which a determination
must be reached that "competition is occurring". after that it
becomes a more or less laissez-faire ball game, especially given the
ongoing climate of deregulation and lack of anti-trust enforcement.
There is no going back, no guarantee that if competition fades
regulation will be restored.
Consolidation is permitted both horizontally and vertically - a telco
can expand its territory, and it can be sold/merged with content
(media) companies. Prices and the definition of services are to be
determined by "the market". It is well to keep in mind that the
Telecom Bill was pushed through by efforts of telecom and media
majors, and well to interpret "increased competition" in that light.
And it is well to keep in mind that the globalization process tends
to propagate the US media model.
| To communications companies, then, the act has been a big
| success. The U.S. commercial media system is currently
| dominated by a few conglomerates -- Disney, the News
| Corporation, G.E., cable giant T.C.I., Universal, Sony, Time
| Warner and Viacom -- with annual media sales ranging from $7
| billion to $23 billion. These giants are often major players in
| broadcast TV, cable TV, film production, music production, book
| publishing, magazine publishing, theme parks and retail
| operations. The system has a second tier of another fifteen or
| so companies, like Gannett, Cox Communications, Dow Jones, The
| New York Times Co. and Newhouse's Advance Communications, with
| annual sales ranging from $1 billion to $5 billion.
| That the 1996 Telecommunications Act's most immediate effect
| was to sanctify this concentrated corporate control is not
| surprising; its true mission never had anything to do with
| increasing competition or empowering consumers.
| ...A few crumbs were tossed to "special interest" groups
| like schools and hospitals, but only when they didn't interfere
| with the pro-business thrust of the legislation.
| - Robert W. McChesney, The Nation Digital Edition,
| author of Corporate Media and the Threat to Democracy
Just as the media industry is already becoming increasingly
vertically integrated (owning its own distribution infrastructure -
satellites, cables, and the like), so the media industry will seek
mergers and acquisitions in the telecom industry as the digital
network gets closer to implementation.
The ultimate direction is for a single media-communications mega-
industry, dominated by a clique of vertically-integrated majors,
following awesome merger wars among huge conglomerates. Regulation
will indeed govern cyberspace but - in accordance with the globalist
paradigm - it will be regulation by and for the cartel of majors, as
we see presaged by the following recent announcement:
| BRUSSELS (Reuter) -- The European Union's top
| telecommunications official called Monday for an international
| charter to regulate the Internet and other electronic networks.
| "Its role would not be to impose detailed rules, except in
| particular circumstances (child pornography, terrorist
| networks)," he said.
| The charter would recognize existing pacts negotiated within
| the World Trade Organization and World Intellectual Property
| Organization and draw on principles agreed by other bodies such
| as the Group of Seven top industrial countries, he said.
>From an economic point of view, the whole point of monopolization is
to create an all-the-traffic-will-bear marketplace - where products
are priced on the basis of "How much will the mass consumer pay for
this product?", without a need to consider under-pricing competing
products. This is the market paradigm that operates today, for
example, in cinemas and in video rentals. Films compete there on the
basis of consumer interest, not on the basis of price. Copyrights
are the foundation of this regime, and WIPO is busily implementing an
industrial-grade version of copyright for cyberspace.
Majors _will_ compete with one another, but their competition will be
in the realm of content acquisition - seeking to have the most
successful product offerings, and coverage - seeking to extend their
market territories. Consumers benefit - this competition brings them
ever more titillating entertainments, but as citizens they are poorly
served - the scope and "message" of their entertainments (and
information) is limited and molded by corporate interests.
WIPO's strict copyright laws basically mean that each consumer must
pay for delivery of each and every media product - it will be illegal
to save a copy (on disk or tape) or to forward a copy to someone
else, and there will be mechanisms (including technical provisions
and surveillance of communications) to provide effective enforcement.
The regulations being laid down for libel, copyright, and pornography
combine to make Internet culture ultimately untenable. A bulletin
board, for example, could not be run in open mode - there would need
to be, in essence, a bonded professional staff to filter out
submissions to avoid liability to prosecution. List owners would be
forced to become censors, and to verify contributor's statements as
do newspaper editors. The open non-economic universe of today's
Internet seems destined to be marginalized just like America's CB-
radio or public-interest broadcasting, thus completing the commercial
domination of cyberspace and the corporate domination of society.
The power of monopolized ownership, in a laissez-faire environment,
translates into the power to define service categories, and to set
prices, according to whatever goals - economic or political - the
owners may have in mind.
The ability to distribute media products at reasonable rates to large
(but not quite mass) audiences translates into the ability to start
up a competing media company - a new film label let's say - with only
production costs standing as the major capitalization required. This
is exactly the kind of situation media cartels wish to avoid -
discouraging distribution start-ups is what "control over
distribution" is all about. In the case of television, scarce
bandwidth translated into expensive licenses and the cartel was easy
In the case of cyberspace, the cartel can maintain its traditional
distribution-control by defining services, and setting prices, in
such a way that media-distribution is artificially expensive, and
becomes only cost-effective on a massive scale - requiring massive
In the case of non-commercial group networking, we're talking about
small distribution lists, say less than a thousand. What do you
think it will cost you to send a message to one person in commercial
cyberspace? My guess is that the "traffic will bear" about as much
for a one-page message as for a first-class letter. This may seem
over-priced to you, but so what? I consider my voice phone service
(and CDs) to be over-priced - c'est la vie in the world of monopoly
market forces. And the advertising brochure will boast "Get your
message instantly to anyone in the world - all for one flat rate less
than a domestic postage stamp".
At 25 cents/recipient, say, you can see what happens to the Internet
mailing-list phenomenon: a 500-person list carries a $125 posting fee
direct from the poster to the telco. You can play with the numbers,
talk about receiver-pays, and point out that corporate users will
insist on affordable networking, but it should be nonetheless clear
that monopoly-controlled pricing has the power to totally wrench the
foundations out from under Internet usage patterns. We could soon be
back in the days when groups and small publications struggled to
scratch together postage for their monthly missives.
The media-com industry will make plenty of money out of 1-1 email
messaging, and plenty of money out of their own commercial products.
Whether or not they want to encourage widespread citizen networking
is entirely up to them - according to their own sovereign
cost/benefit analysis. If they don't favor it, it won't happen -
except in the same marginalized way that HAM radio operates (only for
people with extra time and money on their hands - talking to each
other mostly about HAM radio).
One can presume that there will be some kind of commercial chat-room/
discussion-group industry, and one can imagine it being monopolized
by online versions of talk radio shows, presided over perhaps by an
Oprah Winfrey, a Ted Koppel or a Larry King - with inset screens for
"randomly selected" guests. "Online discussion" can thus be turned
into a new kind of media product, and its distribution economics can
be structured to favor the cartel.
The prospects seem dim for both democracy and cyberspace, and
cyberspace itself seems to be more a part of the problem than a part
of the solution - as with many previous technologies. I will
endeavor to address the question of "What can we do about it?", but
first let's consider a theme of the day: "electronic democracy".
[parts 7-8 (conclusion)]
DEMOCRACY AND CYBERSPACE
Copyright 1997 by Richard K. Moore
Electronic Democracy: dream or nightmare?
"Electronic Democracy" has no generally agreed upon definition - the
term is used to refer to everything from community networking, to
online discussion of issues, to email lobbying of elected
representatives. What I'd like to discuss here is one of the more
radical definitions of the term: the use of electronic networking to
bring about a more direct form of democracy, to short-circuit the
representative process and look more to net-supported plebiscites and
"official" online debates in deciding issues of government policy.
There are well-meaning groups on the Internet actively articulating
and promoting such radical schemes, and to many netizens this kind of
"direct democracy" may seem very appealing. It holds out the promise
of cutting through the bureaucratic red tape, reducing the role of
corrupt politicians and special interests, and allowing the will of
the people to be expressed. In short, it would appear to
institutionalize the more promising aspects of Internet culture for
the benefit of mankind and the furtherance of democratic ideals.
But into this pollyannic perspective I must cast a cynical dose of
realism. Just as it would be naive to assume idyllic visions of a
global-village commons are likely to characterize commercialized
cyberspace, so would it be equally naive to assume electronic direct
democracy, if implemented, would turn out to be anything like the
idealistic visions of its well-meaning proponents.
In examining the future prospects for cyberspace, what turned out to
be determinative, at least by my analysis, were the interests of the
major players who stand to be most affected by the economic and
political opportunities presented by digital networking. It may be
the Internet community that is the most aware and articulate about
cyberspace issues, but they are not the ones who own the
infrastructure or make the policy decisions.
Similarly, when examining the prospects for electronic democracy, it
is absolutely essential to consider the interests of those major
players - including corporations, societal elites, and government
itself - who would be directly affected by any changes made in
If official changes are made to our systems, it is governments who
will make those changes - the same governments who are currently
presiding over the dismantlement of their own infrastructures and
systematically selling out national sovereignty to corporate
The plain fact is that direct electronic democracy is very much a
two-edged sword. Depending on the implementation details - and the
devil is indeed in the details - it could lead either to popular
sovereignty or to populist manipulation. It could give voice to the
common man and woman, or it could be the vehicle for implementing
policies so ill-advised that even existing corrupt governments shy
away from them - and in such a way that no one is accountable for the
Consider some of the issues involved: Who decides which questions
are raised for a vote? Who decides what viewpoints are presented for
consideration? Who decides when sufficient discussion has taken
place? Who verifies that the announced tally is in fact accurate?
Who checks for vote-adjusting viruses in the software, and who
supplies that software?
I don't deny that a beneficent system could be designed, but I don't
see how such could be reliably guaranteed as the outcome. Even with
our current Internet and its open culture, the above issues would not
be easy to resolve in a satisfactory way. In the context of a
commercialized cyberspace, the prospects would be even less
Let's look for a moment at a direct-democracy precedent. In
California there has long been an initiative and referendum process,
and it is much used. This particular system was set up in a fairly
reasonable way, and in many cases decent results have been obtained.
On the other hand there have been cases where corporate interests
have used the initiative process (with the help of intensive
advertising campaigns) to get measures approved which were blatantly
unsound, and which the legislature had been sensible enough not to
In today's political climate, with elite corporate interests firmly
in control of most Western governments, the prospects for any radical
changes being implemented in a way that actually serves popular
interests are very slim indeed. The simple truth is that those
interests currently in the ascendency would be blind fools to allow a
system changes that seriously threatened the control over the
political process they now enjoy.
If "electronic democracy" were to be implemented in today's political
environment, one can only shudder at how it would be set up, and to
what ends it would be employed. The rhetoric surrounding its
implementation would of course be very attractive - direct expression
of popular will, cutting out the corrupt politicos, etc. But
rhetoric is rhetoric, and the reality is something else again, as has
become apparent with globalization itself, or with the U.S. Telecom
The most likely scenario, in my view, would include a biased
statement of the issues, a constrained set of articulated
alternatives, and a selected panel of "experts" who pose no threat to
established interests. It would be a show more than a debate -
reminiscent of what has happened to public-broadcasting panel shows
in the U.S. today, where the majority of panel experts typically
"happen" to come from right-wing think tanks.
Especially disturbing is the intrinsic unaccountability of this kind
of direct-democracy process. If an emotionally charged show/debate
convinces people to vote for nuking Libya, or expelling immigrants,
or sterilizing single mothers, for example, no one is afterwards
accountable - it was "the people's will". The political process is
reduced to stimulus-response: a Madison-Avenue-engineered show
provides the stimulus, and spur-of-the-moment emotion provides the
The history of populism in the latter half of the twentieth century
is not particularly promising. Mussolini and Hitler both came to
power partly through populist appeals to cut through bureaucracy and
bring "decisiveness" to government. I'd say extreme caution is
indicated as regards electronic democracy or any other constitution-
level changes at this time of elite ascendency.
"Electronic democracy", like cyberspace itself, threatens under
existing circumstances to only compound the problems faced by
democracy. In closing, allow me to offer my thoughts on how a
democracy-favoring citizenry might best respond to the onslaught of
corporate globalization generally, and how they might approach
communications policy in particular.
Democracy & Cyberspace: strategic recommendations
Pursuant to the goal of improving the quality of our democracies, it
seems to me, upon consideration, that the only effective strategy is
an old-fashioned one: grass-roots political organizing, creation of
broad coalition movements, formulation of common political agendas,
and the energetic support of sound candidates - with the objective of
re-balancing the elite-people see-saw.
In order to restore balance, national sovereignty must be re-instated
over economic and social policies, returning to democracy its
potency. Coercively and deceptively imposed debut burdens must be
forgiven, and corporations must be effectively encouraged by
regulation to be good citizens just as people are so encouraged by
laws. Laissez-faire deregulation is just a another name for
lawlessness - and gang rule is the inevitable structural outcome, as
history - unreconstructed - conclusively demonstrates.
If popular ascendency can be achieved in this way, then there are all
kinds of improvements that could _then_ be made to our electoral
systems, and increased direct voting _might_ be one of them.
Such a popular resurgence would of course be an incredibly formidable
undertaking, but can we honestly expect significant societal
improvement by any other means? In the meantime, novel proposals for
system-level changes, even the best-intentioned, will only be
implemented after being re-formulated by the current establishment -
to our peril.
Pursuant to the goal of preventing the kind of commercialized
cyberspace that has been described above, my recommendation remains
the same: broad-based popular political activism. The only way
favorable policies can be expected regarding communications, mass
media, excessive corporate influence - or anything else for that
matter - is for better candidates and parties to be put in power in
the context of a sound progressive agenda.
Nonetheless, permit me to offer some specific strategic
recommendations regarding media and telecommunications policy. The
worst aspects of commercialized cyberspace, according to my analysis,
arise from monopoly concentration. The indicated policy strategy
would be to focus on preventing monopolization - both the horizontal
and vertical variety.
To be sure there are the issues of copyright, censorship, and others,
but I believe those are, relatively speaking, already well understood
- the problem is simply to gain some influence over them. The
monopoly issue however deserves a few more words.
Preventing horizontal monopolies is a matter of insuring that
competition exists in each market, and setting limits on the number
of markets a single operator can enter. Accomplishing this is not
rocket science and has been done successfully before. In fact,
recent "reforms", in the case of the U.S., have largely amounted to
undoing not-that-bad regulation.
Alternatively, one could specifically sanction horizontal monopolies
(as with the classic U.S RBOC's or pre-privatization BT), but
implement regulation that insures sound operation, and same-price-
to-all ("common carrier") operation.
Preventing vertical monopolies is a matter of defining "layers" of
service, and preventing cross-ownership across layers. If content
owners (media companies), for example, are not allowed to own
transport facilities, and transport must be marketed on a same-
price-to-all basis, then there would be considerable hope of
preserving open discourse in cyberspace. Independent operators (eg,
ISP's) could then afford (and be permitted) to interconnect to the
network and offer affordable services to "the rest of us", as with
I hope these considerations are found to be useful.
Posted by Richard K. Moore - email@example.com - PO Box 26 Wexford, Ireland
http://www.iol.ie/~rkmoore/cyberjournal (USA Citizen)
* Non-commercial republication encouraged - Please include this sig *
Date: Thu, 7 May 1997 22:51:01 CST
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