Thursday, February 20, 2003

I've just read a great essay by Joichi Ito on the potential of blogs and the web to contribute to democracy. He sees it as more than a means to make communication easier and faster:

"What is difficult is ability for the silent majority to engage in a debate and understand and develop complex ideas without any one citizen needing to have control or an understanding of the entire system. This is the essence of an emergence, and it is the way that ant colonies are able to "think" and our DNA is able to build the complex bodies that we have. If information technology could provide a mechanism for citizens in a democracy to participate in a way that allowed emergent understanding and management of complex problems in the same way that ant colonies solve complex issues, direct democracy would be not only be feasible, but superior to our current representative governments, which are unable to control or understand many of the complexities of the world today."

I love this idea, but I think it is important to realistically confront the challenges if it is to have any chance of becoming real. The hard work of ants is proverbial. If this is our serious ambition, we must ask what we as bloggers need to do to bring it closer.

How many of your favorite blogs are like newspaper columns and editorials, only less so? Perhaps they always praise liberal democrats and attack conservative republicans, unless to criticize the liberals for not being liberal enough. Or perhaps they are a brand of conservative, be it libertarian right or religious right. Belonging to a subgroup is not the same as independent thinking. Either way, paraphrasing the already well articulated arguments of any particular group does not really advance the thought process of the emergent intelligence we collectively hope to become - or even offer the prospect of doing anything not already better done in the mainstream media.

Instead, collective accomplishment requires effort - ants always seem busy, although some neurons seem to get a relatively quiet time when other parts of the brain are very active. Let us try to ask questions that will keep us out of both of the twin ruts. It seems to me that both parties are machines driven to manipulate us by our emotions. If you are dead sure that one is right and one is wrong, perhaps it is worth investigating the efforts of prominent tax cutting conservatives to gain and keep pork for their own districts, or ask if the current system widely varying awards for medical malpractice suits with no guidance for the jury is truly the best way to ensure equitable compensation for injuries while making medical care affordable for all. I guess the questions are slightly different for those living outside of the United States, yet the basic issue may be the same.

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