Where is it written that the natural result of democracy is freedom? Not so very long ago, seems like just a year or so, there was a general assumption, a belief really, that the global reach of the internet would be a democratizing tool that would lead to the rise of universal freedom. By reaching a wide audience with a focus of ideas and a plan for mass participation, fundamental changes could be affected. Cell phones and social media sites would leap over balky land lines and government intrusion, to energize and coalesce whole populations into action. The so-called Arab Spring best exemplified by Cairo’s Tahrir Square is a case in point. And always through these mass demonstrations the commentary from journalists and high American officials alike was the idea that we were witness to a transformative event. Democracy was taking root in the politically barren deserts of despotism. And surely peace and freedom shall follow them all of their days.
Democracy necessarily equates to freedom? Certainly America’s founding fathers didn’t think so. Just look at the pledge of allegiance, “And to the Republic, for which it stands…” These sons of the Age of Enlightenment went to great pains to establish a representative republic, not a democracy. The representatives themselves were to be democratically elected, but the important deliberations of the day were to be made by these representatives in quiet deliberations, remote from the whims of a fickle populace. But now that dynamic is changing and under considerable stress.
By the 1990’s, the binary genie had escaped the labs of academia and granted the wish of instant global communication to an internetted world. In the twinkling of a computer’s cursor, information, be it accurate or fabricated, commentary of all political and religious strips, and personal or organizational communications are instantly disseminated. Democracy may be viewed as the unbridled participation of the populace and the exercise of the will of the majority. One cannot but wonder if, in this age of flash-mob democracy, if freedom per se is really being served.
Permit me to doubt.
Permit the former participants at Tahrir Square to doubt; and the Tunisians, the Libyans, the Syrians, and yes, the Iranians too see no freedom from the results of this internet democracy. The Chinese are fearful and continue to take aggressive steps to limit this internet democracy, but not necessarily for all the reasons one might imagine. Freedom as such is, in their long history, another word for social unrest and rioting. They have seen how loss of a central governing control has led to regionalism and power struggles among a divided populace
And America? Has the legislative process as a spectator sport lead to a greater sense of freedom? In this age of mass media reporting of a legislator’s every move, and mass digital petitioning of them by every special interest group in the phone book really allowing room for calm deliberation among the representatives’ peers? All this mass internet participation in the democratic process is ironically actually eroding the freedom of the individual. Rather than gathering “in order to form a better union”, computer programs are segmenting “we the people” back into more and more disparate groups of race, creed, religion, scale of politically held beliefs, and wealth and class envy; a type of attitudinal regionalism if you will. The term “polarization” is now bandied about and generally accepted as if such a psychotic characterization of a free people’s was normal. Like some horror sci-fi movie, we as individuals are in danger of becoming mere digitized packets, sorted and recombined into a society unrecognizable to the founding fathers, or even our own.
And so, in the spirit of those sci-fi movies of yore:
DEMOCRACY, the INTERNET, and the Death of FREEDOM
……or is this just the BEGINNING?