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January 15, 2005


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read this intro chapter to husband of a fanatic in book form yesterday and wow here it is onscreen and what better example of how the internet expands the outreach of all sorts of not nice folks http://www.india-seminar.com/2004/538/538%20amitava%20kumar.htm don't miss bigot boy's little ditty to dearest jfk

George W.

X-treme democracy? Are we taking cue from Fox Sunday night and Spike TV? O this country gets to me…

It is Extremely democratic… Unlike other forms of democracy, which are not? Doesn’t this designation of a “really” democratic democracy designate that there are problems with the term to begin with? Cant we even be idealistic without sales pitch qualifiers?

It sort of reminds of a blog that I saw recently, Marxism in the Age of Waiting (don’t even look it up). Same inane logic. There is no Marxism in waiting, and there is no extreme democracy, even if the book might have good things in it.

And I love how you use “oddly” as the qualifier in that sentence. I’m so stealing that. It just queers it up so much without you actually saying anything bad…


Thanks for an interesting and informative post.

Regarding the translation issue, you might be interested in joining our discussion at Global Voices about how best to encourage translation in the blogosphere?



George--totally (not oddly) hilarious response.

Makes me think that extreme democracy wouldn't actually be democracy but mobs, peasants with pitchforks. Yet, for the most part the contributors to the volume see basically to be liberal democrats (they want the protections of rights, although they oddly overlook the way that rights claims conflict with each other, the way that there has to be entities that interpret, uphold, and enforce these claims--it's not like folks simply have rights that are just respected, after all).

Mitch Ratcliffe

As one of the editors of aforesaid book, I think we do get into the issues of power at a number of levels and do address the failure of technology-centric political movements to encompass the politics of poverty.

We took "extreme" from the extreme programming movement, which emphasizes the importance of small groups. Not pitchforks, not mobs. I hope you all read everything there before you assume we're dolts because of the title. You can't judge a book....

Jodi, yours are very constructive comments, I just want to emphasize that they are exactly what I think is wrong with the book as it stands today, as well.



Thanks so much for commenting--especially in such a generous manner. I could have imagined a snippy response to the effect that techno-utopians don't read contemporary political theory because it is boring, jargonistic, irrelevant. Instead, your response is a great opening to more discussion. I should also add that not many political theorists keep up with discussions in new media and technology. I hope that more will engage your collection (and, with critical respect, I'm trying to introduce some of the ideas into academic theory debates).

Jon Lebkowsky

(The other co-editor chiming in)... Oddly enough, I'm writing a chapter for the new (hardcopy) version of the book that explores the limits of democracy via social technology. I've also argued for years that democracy doesn't scale, though a network approach (connected nodes and hubs of political debate and activism) has interesting potential to facilitate greater participation in political process. For that reason I think the "extreme democracy" title is apt.

I do think that some pieces that might be called "techno-utopian" - e.g. Joi's collaborative piece, and Jim Moore's "Second Superpower," are worth reading as explorations of the potential for social software and what Howard Rheingold calls "technologies of cooperation" to facilitate effective grassroots organizing, but they certainly don't get into complex power relationships or consider the pros and cons of a more inclusive system (e.g. what is the effect of extending conversations about governance to uninformed or barely informed participants?) We have a lot more to talk about and we welcome your participation in conversations at our site.

Meanwhile, as I suggested, we're working on a new version of the book to be published as a hardcopy edition. We'll be considering comments on the current chapters as we put that version together.


Jon--thanks for your comment. I'd very much like to see what you are working on and will check back at the extreme democracy site. Some of my concerns regarding technological solutions to problems of democracy also involve descriptions of the problem: is the problem lack of participation? is the problem lack of participation by non-right wing Christian evangelicals? is the problem connecting participation on one level with legislative or governmental responses on another? All of the above? It sometimes seems to me that some tech fixes reduce the problem of the democratic deficit to access, information, and participation rather than other potential problems regarding large scale inequalities, abilities to organize (a great place for tech solutions!), countering the discursive hegemony of the right, etc....

Jon Lebkowsky

Excellent points; I hope to cover those in the piece I'm writing now.

George W.

Vaguely related, here is a short and neat article by Crugman on the effects of the media/administration on public opinion, and of how (seeminly) it is easy to shape it.


Ken White

Jodi, et. al.:

As the author of one chapter in the still-evolving Extreme Democracy, let me add a comment that is possibly as self-serving as it is helpful.

The chapter I contributed (http://www.extremedemocracy.com/archives/2004/08/chapter_8_the_d.html) addresses some of these issues (albeit in a limited way).


"...[w]hich could leave a small, largely white, mostly elite, and not very representative group of people heading off toward new territory. That’s hardly emergent, it’s just a new flavor of a minority claiming the right to lead the world….

Although seeing what kind of democracy might emerge from this crowd is an interesting and perhaps even worthwhile experiment, would it be an experiment in truly inclusive and participatory democracy? Perhaps not.

Still, if even a small chunk of people want to explore what’s ahead, the experiment might prove useful. So why worry? Two reasons spring to mind:

First, it’s not much of a democracy without people. It is true that most democratic revolutions and evolutions consist of a small but significant percentage of people leading the way. But it is equally true that the small percentage should pay very close attention to making their experiments attractive and accessible to those who will inherit them. Democratic transformations happen when a significant percentage of people are good and ready for them, and not a moment sooner. No amount of “leadership” will entice a population to change that is not ready for change.

Second, [opponents to democratic evolution] have access to—and no compunctions about using—dangerous, divisive, and destructive means to protect and advance their interests. Think Serbia and Bosnia, September 11th, or fascist Spain. The physical and political knives are sharp precisely because the power stakes are so large…particularly for the retrograde forces who lash out instinctively at the threat modernity and postmodernity pose to their interests. When we play politics, we play against and with those who take it in deadly earnest. We need not share their obsession, but we must anticipate, recognize, and respond to their intentions and actions.

Even within relatively stable nation states, it would be folly to ignore the real but sometimes ugly undercurrents of power, identity, and gain in politics. A variety of things motivate political action—from revenge to power to outrage to guilt to fear—but the democratic system successfully bends those motivations into nonviolent forms of participation. As Boston pols like to say: “Politics ain’t beanbag.”

It's more a passing reference than an analysis, but having spent a few years engaged directly in politics, I appreciate the value of both idealism and realism.

Thanks for pointing out the issue of scalability. One of the advantages of a hierarchical federal democracy is scalability.

Ken White


Thanks for your comments. From the outset, though, I don't think that September 11th has anything to do with opposition to democracy. At the same time, I appreciate that your attention to the problems of real political violence.

I've read your chapter. I'd actually be interested in more specific connections between your chapter and some of the themes here (and, of course more appropriately, in the Extreme Democracy site).

In the draft I read, I had a hard time connecting the two main sections of your paper--which I take to be the list of what democracy got right and then the differing groups in the present. What puzzled me is I didn't know what democracy you meant got 'it' right. Your list seemed to me to combine elements of constitutional liberal democracy (voting, process, rights of assembly, elements of modern states that may or may not be democratic (emergence of public sphere, scale, localism, boundaries, community, values), some aspects of an ideology of American exceptionalism (opportunity, mobility, aspiration, principles, public work, unity and diversity) and other elements that don't fit into easy categories: cause and effect, rubbing elblows, clarity. I don't know of any account of democracy that groups all these things together as constitutive of democracy, even of American democracy. So, it wasn't at all clear to me how this list was functioning. Are the categories ideals? Factual attributes of life in America and if so for whom, when, and where? Constitutional provisions? A checklist for practice and again, if so, whose practice and for what?

Ken White


Thanks for your good questions and critique.

On the relevance of my comments:
My point was that some of the people working on this project (not just me) are very aware of the issues of class, race, gender, etc. that run through the idea of "extreme democracy."

Going back to the original post, I was also agreeing that simply positing a wonderful world does not make it so, and no amount of restructuring will produce idealized human beings. Power, venality, exclusion, greed are not likely to disappear from the public realm anytime soon. I don't think any of us believe that, nor do we ignore the very real possibility that the tools being developed might also be used in ways we find undesirable (Mitch has thought a lot about this, I believe).

I can't speak for others, but I am looking for ways to both increase participation and the efficacy of that participation in public life. Arguably, that could lead to some improvements--not in human beings--but in the way we interact with each other, and the outcomes of those interactions.

On the chapter:
I agree that it suffers from the "two pounds of baloney in a one-pound sack" problem. Two themes is too much for one chapter, and leaves both incompletely realized.

I was trying to sound a cautionary note: before we redesign democracy, we ought to understand what works (or at least what we tried to make work), and why it works pretty well for an increasing number of people. Any redesign, it seems to me, ought to take into account not just the flaws of the current system, but the good intent behind the flaws, as well as the (usually partial) successes.

(Yes, I used the American model as the example in the chapter, and should have been clearer about that. And when I make a list, I ought to check it twice to see if it mixes apples with oranges and/or is incomplete. I'll read it again with that in mind.)

The second main theme is a look at how different people respond to current democratic forms. Some are not drawn at all to the current approach; a pretty broad swath seem to find it at least tolerable, if not ideal; and a relatively small group want to move ahead to a new form. But who might be threatened and/or excluded from some new conception of democracy, and how should we prepare for that?

And, knowing a little bit about the way people react to change, I was suggesting that we ought to think hard about how to move forward as inclusively and attractively (in both senses of the word) as possible.

I take your points to heart as very useful criticisms, and will look into how I might better refine and express the ideas.


PS I'm also not sure September 11th had anything to do with democracy. I *do* think it had a lot to do with an encounter with modernity.

George W.


Yes, but modernity and democracy are not always the same, so dont hide between the clash of worlds excuse. More to the point, it was the rather "undemocratic" treatment of the middle east that prompted Osama to strike at the US. It was a case of brutal Imperialism meet(and inspire) Fundamentalism, and democracy had nothing to do with it.

As Osama makes clear in his video, he saw it as a responce to the US support of the Israely Apatheid, the Iraqi sanctions which only hurt the populace, and about 50 years of US meddling and neo-colonialism in the ME: propping up corrupt regimes with troops (Iran Shah, and Saudi Arabia), and actually opposing emergent democracies like the young Iraq(which tend to nationalize their oil), which suffered a military coup with reported CIA backing and gave us Saddam.

And yes Israel may be a democracy (and thanks to the US, the only one in the region), but it treats citisen palenstinians as lower class people, and those in the occupied territories as living prisoners (whose treatment resembles that of the early Warsaw Ghetto). Which is not that democratic either.

It jumped at me when I read it, and I'm glad Jodi challenged it in the following post. And if that's an excerpt from the book...just dont use it. It is a cheap nod to the reigning political mythology, and I would hope you could avoid it.

Ken White


The use of "[opponents to democratic evolution]" was an inelegant substitution for the actual words. To avoid confusion based on some terminology used in the piece as written, I inserted this phrase. Unhappily, it seems to also have been inexact.

I suspect there are many factors that led up to the September 11th atrocities. I would not claim to be in a position to enumerate and analyze all of them.



Ken, I've been thinking about participation. Generally, I agree that participation is in itself valuable. But I've actually started wondering if I really think that. Because, actually, the effectiveness of right wing participants really bothers me. This suggests to me that a more primary political value for me is a different kind of engagement or commitment or engagement and commitment for different reasons. What do you think?

George W.

To the Extreme Democracy folks...
you know its not like this explosion of freedom has not gone unnoticed, and wont be targetted for supression.

check this




Whenever I start waxing rhapsodic about participatory democracy, someone always brings me back down to earth by saying they’re not sure they want a government run by people like their idiot brother-in-law, their bigoted neighbor, or the morons who watch "Who's Your Daddy?"

Yup, I agree that in a democracy we get the government we (collectively) deserve. And the risk of a takeover of a democracy by some form of crazies is not only possible (like, say, Germany in the 1930s...let's not quibble about details, unless you think the analogy is wildly off target), but a risk we have to anticipate and prevent.

From my experience, the fanatics will stick around at meetings longer and engage more fervently precisely because they are so driven. The rest of us--with lives and without strong ideologies--have other things to do and go home before midnight.

One of the most interesting examples I have seen of this was the Republican convention in Houston in 1992. Say what you will about the Republican party and the American electorate before and since, but when the moderates allowed themselves to be worn down and outlasted by the fanatics, it croaked Bush I's campaign. (There is a long thread here, which I hope we can skip over, about how the R party's tactics and the tenor of the electorate have shifted since then...but let's try and stay with the topic.)

The challenge then, as I think you correctly identify, is to work not just on the opportunities for participation, but on the attractiveness, quality, and outcomes of participation. To develop forms of engagement that increase the likelihood of thoughtful, responsible engagement and decrease the likelihood that bullies or single-issue maniacs can somehow hijack the government.

And to be mindful that the freedom to *not* participate is important as well. This may sound a little strange, coming from a guy who used to work for Common Cause (not responsible in any way for these remarks), but I suspect we really don’t need everyone’s participation all the time on everything. Sometimes, representative forms of democracy actually work, so all of us don’t have to be policy wonks or abandon normal lives. I *do* think it is important that everyone know those opportunities for participation are accessible, effective, and fair, and that everyone understands that it is pretty important to engage at least some of the time and especially when we are at risk of collectively veering too far off course (I suspect you might consider recent years to be one of those times). In a way, the freedom *not* to participate may increase the perceived value of participation as well, but you would know more about that (and a whole lot of other things) than me.

Anyway, it appears this emphasis on options and opportunity is one of the driving forces behind a lot of the extreme democracy stuff. I would imagine that very few believe cyberparticipation will replace F2F participation (just like cybersex is unlikely to displace the other kind(s)). However, I do think that it may offer opportunities to engage more people; improve the quality of that engagement; and augment traditional forms of participation. And perhaps, develop new forms of participation and governance that might be more appropriate as we (hopefully) continue to evolve.

To be ethical, here’s another bias: I attended the University of Virginia. To recast what Mr. Jefferson wrote: "I know of no safe repository of the ultimate power of society but the people. And if we think them not enlightened (sic) enough, the remedy is not to take the power from them, but to improve the quality of participation and governance."

Small comfort, I know.

At risk of behaving like a cyberfanatic myself,


George W.

Ken, (and the coauthors as well)

I dont mean to pick on you, nor do I want to sound like some elitist philosophe, but I think you arguments are a bit mismatched.

I don’t think that you can argue for both the "freedom to not participate” and for improving the quality of participation (that is the citizenry). As I understand it, it is either both or none if we are talking about a working and stable democracy, if such a thing is even possible.

(To be fully honest here, I’ll admit my bias of being suspicious of the whole concept of democracy, as I think it tends to either settle for the lowest common denominator or follow some fanatic. But…I may be an elitist, but I don’t think you have to be one to see this in action in the last election.)

In my limited experience (I did a lot of F2F stuff with the Dean Campaign, NARAL, NOW, NYPIRG and the ISO) the “People” tend to be (I wont say naturally, but at least historically) apathetic, lazy, and often ignorant of issues, ideas and political history. Yes there is nothing wrong with wanting to live your life, but that does not make one an effective political agent of democracy. As such, Democracies are extremely susceptible to demagoguery and sophistry (which was even pointed out by Plato two millennia ago, and the reason why he preferred an enlightened Oligarchy). I am not saying that people cant make decisions, they can, but they are often too easy to manipulate and confuse. If a person bombarded with serious arguments and official sounding data over and over again, they will often be swayed away from decision that are “rational” or at least beneficial to them or society, unless they actually have a working knowledge of the argument (and of some arguing), and so be able to hold their own.

Personally, I think the only cure for demagoguery is education, and lots and lots of it. Of history, both past and near. Of politics, of economics, and perhaps even some sociology; there are some basics that a citizen must know about the politics of his country or otherwise the concept of citizen is pointless. I wont say that “liberals” are smarter, as in fact more Republicans hold advanced degrees, but I do think that statistically, a good education in the social sciences, or more specifically a critical education in the workings of government, does make one more impervious to blatant propaganda, more questioning, and harder to convince. (There are some very sharp neo-cons out there, but than they are a different case, and actually support the propaganda for their own uses.)

Am I being utopic and idealistic as I tend to be in my posts…Yes…an educated citizenry…yes that would be nice, but improbable in this country. The thing is…. I think without that sort of “philosophic” citizenry you whole democratic project is utopian and idealistic as well. It relies on a sort of faith in people’s rationality and intellectual coherence, which I sadly lack. Yes the internet can allow for greater participation and even for a greater variety of news and opinions, but that does not mean that people will became any more critical with their information, so I don’t see how “Extreme Democracy” is to ensue here. Their label notwithstanding, “conservatives” have been on top of the internet and modern media, and their opinions and pundits have proliferated as well, so have the sources of various colorful propaganda telling you to stop worrying, go to sleep, jerk-off, eat something or whatever. Fox is still as persuasive as the BBC, so as both sides move into the internet, one of them wanting less democracy, the other wanting more, the current balance will seemingly continue, if not get worse.

So you argue that there should be a freedom from having to be political or “freedom to not participate”. I don’t think this is an option if you are taking this democracy thing seriously. In a great society without bigots and fanatics, maybe this would be an option, but we are not in that society. And when people tune out to “live their lives”, as they want to do (and who can blame them given how powerless and sad major politics make people feel) in most probability, they will think that Iraq was connected to 911, that the War is going good, that the world hates us for no reason, etc – as that is the biggest and easiest message out there.

Should all of us be “policy wonks”…well I think we just might have to be, if our democracy is to resist the challenges of power-hungry fanatics, self-serving crooks, and determined bigots. Right now, being “politically involved” is something that some people do, but I think in a democracy that can resist the Nazi impulse, that has to be the norm, no matter how time consuming it may seem to those who don’t get off on that kind of thing. Its like jury duty, it cant just be done by the people who do it because they are bored and want a break from work. So living what you see as “normal lives” is not an option here, as I think a “democratic” citizen is an engaged/enlightened citizen, or not a citizen of a democracy for long.

I hear the coming chuckle of “well this what we are talking about here, this is what Ex. Dem. is all about, using modern media to make people participate more, and to involve them more into the process.” But if that was what you were thinking, than you are missing my point. Democracy requires a special kind of citizenry, a critical, enlightened, perceptive citizenry of policy wonks who can understand the proposals of their leaders, know the history of such ideas, and reject bullshit and short term fixes. More options for participation, or more availability for information is not the solution. MY OWN MOTHER emailed me a day before the election telling me that she is still unsure about who to vote…yes Bush was a liar and a bastard, but then she was in NYC and just felt that he is doing more for our security. She is online enough, and participated in the Million Woman march, but she gets her politics from her office, and no matter what I sent her before, just had a “bad” feeling about Kerry even if she agreed with all of his proposals.

And maybe I have not read through the whole Extreme Democracy site, and maybe all the points below are addressed somewhere (and please direct me is so), but I still feel these issues make any “democratic” project too utopian even we get wireless internet feeds installed into our heads.

- Many people think that politicians lie and cheat (or will lies and cheat no matter what) so they prefer to go with the politician that makes them feel good, that is one of them, one of the guys. So elections become subliminal popularity contests.
- Many people are constantly scared and unnerved by an ignorance of the outside: by the menacing other, by evil lurking people and their WMD, and unconsciously and consciously clamor for a strong leader that will make them “feel” secure because “he” is in charge, and if the enemy tries something will be “man enough” to strike back and defend our children and all that we worked so hard to stash away (without much tack and poll watching).
- Many people are made to feel powerless and lowly by their jobs, lives, and achievements. They enjoy the fact that they are part of the “greatest” nation that is strong enough to impose its will on any other nation. They enjoy the fact that we can both defeat them and spread democracy.
- Many people feel cheated and deprived by life (and in our economy they are) and with subtle prompting they channel their frustrations on either the external or the internal other that is to blame for what we have. (The commies, the homos, the greens, the liberals, the Jews, the feminists, the a-rabs – they are to blame for all this.)
- Many people feel that life is moving too fast for them, that they need something stable and concrete to hold on too to be able to live normally (which is a very human need), so they connect to things that promise them stability and security, like religion, the American Dream, or even heterosexual only marriage, and lash out on those who seem to impinge on those things.

This are all people. Many of them are kind, just, and “good”. They can vote as well, but generally make shitty voters. I was a Zionist fascist back in high school, and I used to think that one should have to take a test on basic history, general economical principles, and political mechanics, candidates positions, and the implications of issues in order to be able to vote at all. This is off course extreme, unfair, elitist, and definitely undemocratic. All the same I am not sure if we can be “democratic” about a persons option to be knowledgeable and involved, or to vote or not to vote.


The first part of your post echoed some of what I've been reading today: the Slovenian philosopher Zizek emphasizes the contingency of democracy, the way that if the possibility of screwing up everything is omitted, then there is no democracy at all. (I should add that this comes from his early work; in his later work, he is more critical of democracy.) Maybe another way to think about it is what sorts of practices configure users in better ways than others. And maybe part of the problem is that an active number of current participants/users have been configured in a Fox media environment and in extreme religious contexts. Then, part of the 'extreme democracy' response is thinking through and providing alternative sites for configuring participants and participation.


George, I like the many people refrain. And, as you know, I currently share your skepticism about democracy. But (you knew this was coming), I think your argument here relies too much on your line of criticism of Ken, namely, his assertion that people have the right not to participate in politics. I think he's right on this. What seems to underlie your view is that of a fully mobilized citiznry. I think this is too intrusive; it also ontologizes a very specific view of what counts as appropriate action and then has genocidal potential.

Jon Lebkowsky

George, how would you enforce participation, if there was no right to do otherwise?

George W.


I'm pretty sure you won’t like this answer, but I think in the short term, the way to increase democratic participation is to strictly prohibit it. Make it seem dangerous, discourage it, put it down in the press, threaten the people who do it, make fun of them, maybe even make it illegal. Perhaps don’t go all the way to 1984, but do create the feeling that there is something worthwhile to be gained by voting and participating, which is why those in Power are going through the effort of discouraging it and suppressing you.

Right now participation is fully encouraged by those in Power. Yes, go vote, do community service, organize, talk to people, educate your neighbors, be political. DO DO Do as much as you can. In fact it is almost your duty as a patriotic citizen to do it. I think when "bad politicians" like Bush encourage this, they effectively send the opposite message, as why would he encourage something that was harmful to him? So people may do the bare minimum of voting, but discard the rest as baloney.

But perhaps that is too wildly theoretical. Plus this is a tactic, not a solution. So personally I think that education, or specifically an “experience based” education is the only solution to ensure regular “participation”. We are not talking American politics 101 here, although they should be well known at some point, but rather a learning that makes it clear how “participation” is directly involved in our lives.

First of all, there is an inherent bias when we say “participation” it seems like something extra, like something forced, or something optional, it is something that you should do (if you want to be political), but don’t exactly have to. For me this is a huge problem in the contemporary consciousness. For example, consider eating and sleeping, they are not considered “participation” they are something that we all do for ourselves, a necessary act of self preservation, which we don’t really see as being “extra”. Adding on to that, in various degrees, for some people is going to the gym, or working, or raising children, or decorating, choosing your clothing, having friends, etc. All of these are acts that we see as being necessary to ourselves, but most importantly, we see how the choices that we make impact our life. If you choose not to eat, or what to eat, you will feel it, so you feel a direct connection to your “participation” and thus don’t regard it as external.

So for example (and this is admittedly not the best one, and I am making it a bit of an extreme case to illustrate the point), consider a regular high school, which is having elections for student president. Usually the kids running want something extra on their resumes, or were encouraged by teachers to do so as good experience. And usually the kids voting do it because their friends are on it, or because it’s in the cafeteria, etc. And there may be some fighting and drama in between. (anyone see Election?) Democracy ensues, but the problem is, class presidents don’t have much power to directly affect the lives of the students. They may make a few announcements, decorate something, organize something annual, or in extreme cases get a snack machine for the halls; but there is a pretty clear understanding that this is play, and that the real power is held with the “grownups”, as it should, as these are only kids getting their first taste in representative Democracy. But this first taste is an empty one, as your “participation” carries little weight in your life, and lo and behold, the same dynamic unfolds on the national level.

Now for example, if class presidents had more power: like to call for a day off when they felt one was needed, or to change the food in the cafeteria with school funds (free ice cream at lunch?), to decide on school uniforms and class schedules, to cancel funding for a club or a team, or to have the ability to fire a teacher that many students felt was particularly noxious, and even to suspend other students, or to release them from charges on misbehavior, etc, etc. (and perhaps a students parliament would be needed to ratify some decisions, so no one goes crazy). And there is a clear understanding that school officials cannot interfere, even in case of clear injustice and mismanagement – as the students must live a year in the full consequence of their choices. Now, it begins to matter who you elect, and your “participation” in the process has more of a direct connection to your life, and thus becomes less of a matter of “participation” than necessary self maintenance. (This is in line with the argument for reinstating a full draft as a way to prevent War.)

And in fact a much better example of this would be a school those students met weekly to debate and vote on proposals that directly affect them. Like firing and hiring teachers, shortening class times, scheduling holidays and vacations, getting treats in the cafeteria, canceling boring events, or even repainting the school. Most high schools are small enough to do this, if the grades deliberate separately, and then meet together for big decisions. That’s democracy in action – or an anarchist commune in action – but that’s an example for life, of how your participation immediately affects you life.

We are a generation of people that feel that if you don’t do anything, the folks who care about those things will still manage things well without you. Yes it might matter for abortion and war, but with enough “class elections”, there is cultivated an unconscious understanding that things don’t go that bad, and are usually managed from above, so your participation in politics remains an option. I stand by my arguments in the previous post. Politics is not an option but a necessity in one’s life. Like sleeping and pooping, one must engage in the politics of their milieu. Yes I know, Im in pol sci, so there must be a bias to this conclusion. But I do think that not everybody has to be a physicist, or a painter, or an actor, a sociologist, or a political theorist; but that everybody has to be knowledgeable about politics, and be active in them, as our communal life is “politics”; so we either all manage it, or someone will mismanage it.


This is an answer to your question, or rather the best way that I can answer your question so far. But don’t jump me yet, as Yes this is what you guys are talking about – of using the media to get people together to affect change, to make political decisions and to see them implemented, and to make them feel that their actions have a purpose (or so I surmise from skimming). However – and this is a BIG “however” – this is not what I argued about in my last post. As everything that I wrote above implicitly accepts a “liberal” (or Enlightenment) dynamic of human operation; that people have conscious interests and that they consciously choose to act on those interests (with proper education and encouragement) for personal or communal gain – but I consider that sort of “rational human” model to be a very dangerous and misused fiction. It is a concept that underlines capitalist democracy, but also anarchism and communism; that most people are created equal, that most people can understand their interests and act in their own favor (with the proper class/personal consciousness for the latter two), that we freely make choices and know what we are doing when we make them – and this is not something that I agree with. Call me cynical, elitist, un-humanitarian, reductionist…but I think this sort of logic (or…faith) got us where we are now, and so I am more than suspicious about it.

Perhaps this is where our conversation ends. Perhaps this is an impossible impasse between us, something that we cannot “agree to disagree” when talking about democracy, or perhaps I should not be talking about “democracy” at all with these sorts of thoughts. I am referring to the realm of unconscious motivations and conscious delusions, and this is not a line of thinking that is shared, recognized or respected by most people. “We don’t act in our own interest? We are not free and rational decision makers in control of ourselves?” – this is a claim that is hard to defend, as even this conversation, and my persistence in my arguments, speak against me. But after my last two political science seminars about Fascism and Consumerism, it would be “irrational” for me not to make it. (as ridiculous as this choice of words is). And I am not saying that the writers of Extreme Democracy are Adam Smith groupies, with a full a faith in modern rational man. That would be an unfair and unwarranted dismissal. However, I think that this is the concept that Democracy, in any form, is based on. That people know what they want, or can figure out what they want with help, and thus can make beneficial political choices for themselves and their community.

I am yet to see an advanced philosophy class be free of such deadlocks; to make rational self-beneficial decisions, and to reach consensus on the matter – so what am I to expect from a “regular” audience. (Although arguably this is a bad example, as who in their right mind would ever become a philosophy major in this economy – so perhaps those people have more problems with decision making, not less – but the point still holds; the Habermasian dream for a discursive attainment of consensus remains very ephemeral.) So am I suggesting something extreme like “mandatory therapy for all!”…until we are all deconstructed out of our childhood hang-ups, cultural biases, hurts, pains, regressions and sublimations; so that we are then all free to pursue rational and “unburdened” deliberations together in our “sane” new world? I guess…I’m not sure…it smacks too much of Kantian idealistic paranoia, as arguably our hang-ups are our humanity, so a call for such a medical intervention is suspect as well.

Plus such thinking underlies the assumption that rational self-interested decision making on the part of all, or at least the vast majority of citizens is possible – but only obscured and perverted by developmental neurosis, unmanaged psychoses, false ideologies, government propaganda, lies, ignorance – and could be removed through a proper grilling on the psychoanalytic couch and the philosophic classroom, so that the liberated and enlightened (introspective) subject can begin to follow his real desires and needs (or in the case of the superego, not follow them) etc, etc. That is, that we are all rational but deluded, and need to – to use Plato’s metaphor – be led out of the cave into the sunlight. At some point, even this sort of ideology is suspect. Can we really be all made “rational” – or is that just wishful liberal thinking.

If I was a fascist, or if I took Plato’s “Republic” at its word, I would argue that this is a part of the human condition: that some people can think rationally and make proper decisions, while others cannot, that not all people are created mentally equal (or at least have the needed minimum) so that the “common good” rests in the hands of the special few. But I am not a fascist, nor a full Platonic elitist, so this question about the possibilities of an actual democratic system, where mostly rational people make mostly rational decisions about shaping the direction of their communal lives, is still undecided in my mind. (Which I think is good for an undergraduate…) So yes I come to challenge, but I bring no solutions. Nevertheless, I think this challenge is still important. I don’t think that increased or free “participation” or “information” are the solution to the problems mentioned above. You look at “democracy”, and you see that it is a system that could be good if only certain things were fixed and were better; that it is a working but mismanaged concept. For the reasons above, I fail to reach the same conclusions, and thus challenge “democracy” as a concept, as perhaps modern democracy was designed to not work, and thus cannot be fixed.

This post may raise more questions (and eyebrows) than it answers. But I am still want to hear about what you think about this.

- George

Overzealous George

Shit...(where is post editing when you need it!?!?!)

Um, Jon, I sincerely apologize, as I sorta misread the sentence, and saw "increase" instead of "enforce" in your question. (I have the same problem in the GREs…) So yah. Feel very silly right about now. That’s a lotta answer in the wrong direction. (although perhaps its more fodder for the bigger discussion of the post)

How would I enforce participation when it is prohibited?

Good question…

I’ll get back to you on that.

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