The empty arsenal of democracy

The question that haunts progressives in Internet forums is “What comes next?” What will break through the entrenched resistance of the corporate-owned political establishment and turn the Internet into a medium of democratic (small d) political action. I believe that many progressives have wrongly concluded that nothing further could be expected from Internet political phenomena than that they should function as helpful adjuncts to traditional clubhouse politics (e.g., the DKos model). I disagree strongly, and herewith explain what I think has gone wrong and how to put things right:

I.  What has gone wrong with political blogs

We have been disarmed by a focus on information. The notion that a properly informed citizenry will act in its interests is manifestly faulty, because it neglects the obvious psychological obstacle of a citizenry that has been frightened, narcotized, or otherwise manipulated into passivity. For example, almost every American knows that the Iraq war was a cruel joke played on our citizenry, our soldiers, and the people of Iraq, but the war continues, year after year after year.

As a thought experiment, pretend that the Internet existed in Germany in 1944 and that citizens could access reports of holocaust genocide being committed in Nazi death camps. Do you think the “good Germans” would have rebelled and brought down their government? Of course not, they would simply have ignored the evidence and carried on with the war, just as Americans have ignored the evidence of the horrors of Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and Guantanamo and are allowing the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to continue.

The Nazi concentration camps were not shut down by newspaper articles, radio broadcasts, informative pamphlets, or religious appeals. They were closed by the forcible defeat of Nazi Germany. In our era, rogue corporations will never modify their rapacious behavior because of information – no matter how sophisticated its composition and delivery. They will change only when they are forced to change by action that directly impinges on their profits or threatens their corporate existence.

You may think it a strong claim that I declare Internet political blogs to be impotent, but I would go further. To the degree that they act as energy sinks and emotional outlets for politically engaged individuals, they actually subtract from the potential for effective action. Think of how often you have enjoyed the cathartic process of reading of some fresh outrage against humanity, then posting your own amplifying comments. It may feel satisfying, but it is the equivalent of empty political calories, because nothing has been accomplished, other than generating a bit of traffic for a blog site.

II. How to make blogging politically effective

Political change does not come from enlightenment of the oppressed; it comes from defeating the oppressors. You can’t change the behavior of Goldman Sachs or Halliburton by explaining their mischief in elaborate and irrefutable detail. The American people already know that these are gangster organizations. But the people, and their elected “representatives,” are too intimidated and paralyzed to attack these monsters.

Political activity on the Internet needs to be “weaponized” in order to change the power relationships in world society. There is no “arsenal of democracy” in the political forums of the Internet. The armory is empty. All we have are crumpled informative handbills blowing in the wind of irrelevance. How do we build an arsenal of democracy on the Internet? Here are some ideas:

1. The Burning Lens. Every child has seen how a simple magnifying glass can concentrate the rays of the sun to create a spot of intense heat that can set things afire. This is the crucial metaphor for using the Internet as a political weapon. Only a small fraction of the population is politically active and willing to devote more than a fraction of their time to securing political change. The advent of the Internet substantially increased the power of this activist minority, but the evolution of organizational structure to concentrate Internet activism on a SMALL NUMBER OF TARGETS has lagged. Like children in a candy store, today’s Internet political activists are so dazzled and disoriented by the array of issues before them that their efforts are widely scattered and diluted into insignificance. Consider what would happen to Goldman Sachs if 50,000 people devoted a significant portion of their time to a collective effort to curb the pernicious behavior of this corporation. Without focus and convergent effort on selected targets of direct action, political action on the Internet will remain feeble and irrelevant.

2. The People’s Charter. Corporations have already set up world governments. They operate globally and play off nations against each other to advance their interests. They use nation-states and their thickets of jurisdictional legal obstructions as weapons against the people of the world. Political activists must accept that there is only one standard of health for the world; there is only one value of human life for the world; and there is only one definition of personal freedom for the world. Just as the Magna Carta secured fundamental liberties for the English people centuries ago. A single global people’s charter must be developed to present a common political platform for humanity against the rapacity of the corporations.

3. The Corporate Death Penalty. Corporations do not enter the world through immaculate conception. They are chartered by political bodies for the good of society. What is chartered can be un-chartered. Removing a corporation’s charter is the equivalent of sentencing it to death. If politicians cannot be persuaded to de-charter a corporation, then the corporation can be killed by free market means, through boycotts, strikes, and customer-directed and supplier-directed campaigns. Capital punishment advocates have long argued for the deterrent value of the death penalty. Although this deterrence has not been proven for individual criminals, it is very likely to be an effective mechanism in curbing destructive behavior of rogue corporations.

How are these political weapons to be wielded? In this sequence:

I. A rogue corporation is identified as being in violation of the People’s Charter.

II. The rogue corporation is selected by Internet progressives as an exemplary target.

III. Burning Lens sanctions and direct actions are conducted against the rogue corporation until its business fails or it is de-chartered.

IV. Other corporations observe the outcome of this process and modify their behaviors accordingly.

We can shout the truth from one hundred million web sites forever, and not one corporation mercenary will lift a finger to trade profit for ethical conduct. Yelling louder does not work when malefactors are ethically deaf. Rogue corporations can be defeated only by weapons designed to injure them, not by words meant to cajole them. The empty arsenal of Internet democracy must be filled with arms that can change the world, not with impotent cries of rage.


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    • Inky99 on July 7, 2009 at 07:16

    taming the market.

    I think it’s a great idea, in principle, but only a few will ever actually act on it.

    Remember all the outrage about Disney/ABC showing “The Road to 9/11?”  Pure propaganda, pure bullshit, even Bill Clinton actually came out of retirement to blast it.  We all talked about boycotting ABC and Disney —- yeah, sure we did.  I don’t think anybody actually turned the channel and quit watching ABC.  

    I think the only way things will change is to reject the current two-party system.  The only way is to create two entirely new parties (or more) and make sure the old ones die a strangled, ugly death.  Make sure none of the old pols join the new parties (as we’ve seen with the likes of Specter jumping ship for expediency).  

    I see it happening a bit.  I see many on the left deciding they’ll never EVER vote for a Dem again (including myself) and I see many on the right completely disgusted with the Repubs and going Libertarian or otherwise.

  1. the decades has definitely had an effect on citizens.  The best example is the conspirary theory term.  Misinformation and propagandists have made that term so mainstreamingly tinfoilish that even those that should know better, ie. most of those on Daily Kos, have had their brains swayed to think that people that think that way are wacko.  It’s a big game and those that can’t figure it out are the ones that are wacko.  

  2. The notion that a properly informed citizenry will act in its interests is manifestly faulty, because it neglects the obvious psychological obstacle of a citizenry that has been frightened, narcotized, or otherwise manipulated into passivity.

    This was Plato’s fundamental error, one that I feel invalidated his entire approach. He operated from the presumption — wonderfully summarized in your quote above — that if only a person knows “The Good”, that person cannot help but do “The Good”. It’s an absurd notion. In addition to the reasons you articulate, there’s one more: a citizenry that willfully and with eyes wide open refuses to act in its real interests.  

    • pico on July 7, 2009 at 22:26

    (i.e. what’s wrong with political blogs) but what I don’t see – and what the whole crux of the blogging paradox amounts to – is how to get from section I to section II (what to do about it) in an effective way.  That area between the sections is the holy grail of blogging, how to get people to do something worthwhile and effective with all their time online.   You’ve given a good defense of why you think the issues in section II are vital, but how do you transform the environment that creates section I into the kind of vehicle you need to get there?

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