Peter Watt has a useful overview of the impact the interconnected world is having on politics. You can find this post here today over at Labour Uncut. It’s worth reading in full.
Essentially, Mr Watt argues that the political classes attribute the current fractures in society to economic crisis. I think I made the same point recently, so am unlikely to find myself disagreeing. Where I do think I diverge from the aforementioned classes – and in this so does Watt – is in assuming that if only we can sort out the economic crises currently assailing us, everyone and everything will revert to its former stasis and equilibrium. In Watt’s own words:
[...] Following this logic through and when the economy upturns, then political business as usual will resume. Labour and the Tories will battle it out for supremacy with Lib Dems battling for scraps or possibly further coalition.
But as he goes on to say (the bold is mine):
The result of this assumption is essentially conservative; it is the politics of no change in how we do our politics. The countdown has begun to May 7 2015 and the only question is which of the big two will be the largest party the day after. Whilst others may be suffering from the economic situation or the rapidly changing world, the world of politics appears unaffected.
To be honest, I would be inclined to argue that of the two, suffering from a rapidly changing world has to be the most significant challenge. And by a massive margin. A while ago I wrote a rather involved piece on the need to create a parallel parliament of coders to the one we already have: that is to say, the one of lawyers we have become so accustomed to. In this I argue, as per Lawrence Lessig, that 21st century software code is a set of laws in much the same way that 19th century law was a set of societal codes. Both required, and require, interpreters; authors too; and champions, of course. But the difference between the two for our democracies is that the software coders do their law-writing behind closed corporate doors, as they fashion our online constitutions in terms of their companies’ diktats, and in accordance with shareholder requirements.
In a democracy it was never thus. At the very least, Parliament was held to be sovereign – even if sometimes its ability to deliver was compromised. As I point out in the post in question:
But if what Lessig has sustained for quite a while now is in any way true, the kind of profession which dominates our democracy is entirely the wrong one for our times. If more law is being made in the online constitutions we now all operate under for our communication, peer-to-peer exchanges, commerce and gaming than is being made in our parliaments, surely we need a parliament stuffed with those who understand the new tools.
Otherwise, we depend on the good faith of people working behind closed corporate doors to create online and connected offline worlds with a sensibility and sensitivity to the needs of a wider democracy.
Hardly the essence of representative democracy, now is it?
Which brings us to my last point. Watt argues thus:
But more and more people care less and less about the world of politics. If they notice what is going on at all they don’t very often see anything that has much relevance to them. In a world that is increasingly interconnected the communications from the parties are still essentially in broadcast mode.
And whilst he’s right as far as he goes, I think he could have gone further. People care less and less about the world of party politics. But not less and less about politics. In fact, human beings are innately political – as well as in the thrall, sometimes despite themselves, of intrinsically democratic impulses.
And so it is that even Watt, from his position as professional politician, appears to attribute distaste for the political processes in question simply to a lack of bidirectional communication: that is to say, dialogue.
The famous listening mode of so many unhappy political experiments, perhaps.
Meanwhile, I would argue, especially in the light of my coder post, that in fact the fracture goes much further than that: people love democracy, love politics, love the cut and thrust of open and honest debate – and none of what Watt describes has changed that love one iota. What has substituted the whole idea of 19th century lawmaking is the very worldwide web itself. Via open source communities, via forums and social networks, people express and embrace their instincts for democracy – and slowly but all too surely move away from expressing their democracy within the space of party politics.
In a sense, party politics is now to democracy what HMV was to music and video sales. And as Facebook, Twitter and a whole host of other social communication tools have been created in corporate skyscrapers without the oversight of our duly elected representatives, so our democracy has slowly but all too surely become a plaything of sub-democratic means.
Not just the traditional politicians and businesspeople, and those infamous revolving doors – but also the voters and citizens themselves in peer-to-peer ways and without apparent mediation, communicating with each other via the freemium software tools of highly intelligent individuals who are way ahead of the rest of us.
And yet … and yet … these democratic instincts – which all of us humans continue to exhibit – do seem to be marching on.
The real question, I suppose, is whether the majority of politicians care to pay attention to any of this.
Whether they notice that whilst they demonstrate how irrelevant they are to improving our sorry lot, their erstwhile dependants may be choosing to rebuild their own lives quite without them.
It won’t even be a question of having to regain someone’s lost trust.
It’ll be far more a question of ultimate redundancy.