I've been reading some interesting chapters for a book in process on Extreme Democracy. It's edited by Mitch Radcliffe and Jon Lebkowsky. It includes one my favorites, Clay Shirkey's piece on blogs, power laws, and inequality, but it also has a number of pieces criticizing Shirkey and waxing on about the democratic potential of the internet, an old story now updated because of blogs etc.
There's nothing wrong with optimism. It's helpful, inspiring even. But, why do the contributors to this discussion (which also includes Joi Ito et al's celebration of emergent democracy) stop reading political theory after the Federalist Papers? It's like they are all stuck in the 18th century with their emphases on free choice and the autonomous individual. There is no acknowledgement of ideologies, structures in which individuals emerge as individuals, systems of identity configuration through sex, race, ethnicity. People are oddly transparent to each other and themselves, oddly good intentioned, oddly able to solve all sorts of massive problems by sharing information--that they might have major ideological differences, that they might hate and want to kill each other, doesn't appear.
An additional problem is the assumption of translation. To argue that, counter Shirkey, democracy can scale, some of the authors have to assume that separate discussion spheres can and do link. One problem with this is that it ignores fragmentation in language, metaphor, meaning. Different terms mean different things in different contexts. They have different valences, etc.
Poverty doesn't appear. In some ways, it's like these extreme democrats are actually the ultimate Lockeans, figuring the subject of politics as generally disembodied, rational, with good intentions. The only difference is the relation to property: extreme democrats are to a certain extent (I'm not sure how much when it comes right down to it) against it (which I why I actually, despite my criticisms) like them.
In short, these extreme or emergent democrats omit power from the equation. And this leads them to have a wildly incoherent account of the so-called free individual happily cooperating and choosing in a networked environment.