Digital Democracy: From Capacity to Influence; a Brief Intro

The research that this slideshow summarises sets out to explore why our democratic models are failing in the face of the interactive web and its endless opportunities for exchange and dialogue, and how a better democratic model – taking these opportunities into consideration – could be designed.

Following Habermas, we here assume a public sphere influencing the governing structures through a four-spoke structure. These four spokes are (i) the private intimate realm (family and social life), (ii) the private economic realm (individual financial and intellectual capital), (iii) the public intimate realm (media) and (iv) the public economic realm (corporations and non-government institutions).

We furthermore argue that although the private intimate realm formally elects parliamentarians (and hence governments), its influence is limited in both time and scope, as although elections take place with multi-year intervals, politics and policy are shaped daily. Day-to-day influences over elected politicians are largely driven by the public economic realm, which in turn is influenced by owner-driven interests representing the private economic realm, channeled via the public intimate realm (media) – to a large extent privately owned and hence overlapping with the private economic realm. As these forces lobby the elected incumbents with what Habermas calls ‘generalized particularism’ – biased and typically commercially driven interests that, towards the public, are both re-formulated and re-presented as being of general concern and benefit – the economic side of our socio-economic equations is given far more attention than the social side. The global trend towards neo-liberalism is built on this priority, which – at the same time as it has created remarkable growth – also caused rapidly increasing discrepancies between ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’, and given rise to widespread dis-content over how our current democratic systems serve to represent their constituencies.

The Internet for over a decade has been seen as the tool by which the private intimate realm shall be able to restore influence over elected politicians. Many initiatives with this aim have been launched, but although some gains have been made the overall impact is still modest. Some also see the emerging peer-to-peer mode of production as a promising challenge to corporate power over political life. The road from such a promise to real change however still seems long, as P2P yet needs to secure its underpinnings in general and its financial platform in particular, before it can take on this task. It is also far from certain that the web will prove to be any more democratic than our current democratic institutions, since the web is quick to build new elites – and elitist practices. Although the web may promote different elites, and these elites may think and work differently, compared to parliamentarian democracies lobbied by the corporate sector, that does not mean societies by default will become more democratic.

The ‘long tail’ – or the power-law distribution – that signifies the Internet, will in fact deny the public sphere to establish the kind of broadly supported and well-reasoned arguments that policy must be based upon. As Habermas noted: to base policy on ‘opinions’ is both insufficient and short-sighted. This research therefore outlined a modus operandi for a ‘Citizen Lobby’, intended to balance – but not replace – the interests of the institutional lobby. Participation in this Citizen Lobby is assumed to be mandatory and remunerated under law – i.e. not based on voluntary input – since voluntary lobbies soon become driven by vested rather than public interests. This new lobby will, through an anticipated and entailing shift in focus from election to re-election,be based on the Citizen Lobby’s day-to-day monitoring and motivate elected politicians to give at least equal effort to the interests of private as to those of corporate citizens.

The slideshow you are about to view summarises these findings and explains how the Citizen Lobby can be set up and how it can operate.

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