Extreme Democracy

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Author: Mitch Ratcliffe

Mitch Ratcliffe is a veteran entrepreneur, journalist and business model hacker. He operates this site, which is a collection of the blogs he's published over the years, as well as an archive of his professional publishing record. As always, this is a work in progress. Such is life.

4 thoughts on “Extreme Democracy”

  1. Interesting ideas. Look forward to reading more. A few thoughts:

    – There are limits to how much you can ‘automate’ personal interaction and discourse — and politics ultimately boils down to making abstract concepts personal. It took a handshake after a small rally on a sunny Spring day, with Dean speaking through a cheap plastic megaphone, for me to wholeheartedly support him. The next time I shook his hand was after ‘The Scream’ in Iowa — a year and thousands of hours and dollars later.

    – The Dean campaign showed you can take fundraising and information dissemination and make it more efficient. But it also showed the limits of how far you can go with that. Despite all the press about his fundraising success, Bush outgunned him in money and media doing it the old-fashioned way.

    – People still like getting together face-to-face (as in Meetups) and sending an e-mail never replaced precinct-walking. Yes, it’s easy to press the button and send them 50 bucks, but that doesn’t replace having volunteer activists pounding the streets and engaging their own community.

    – There’s a dirty little secret in modern communications: that it amplifies disputes. Try to conduct a debate with someone over the phone and you end up yelling at each other. Try to do it via email and you end up in flame wars. Do it in person and that person sees that you are saying something with a smile and knows not to take offense. Or you see the look of hurt in their eyes and know to stop and apologize.

    Politics–the art of consensus building–is not something conducive to ‘modernization.’ The scaffolding around it (money, media, and organizing, for example) maybe, but not the core itself. I know that’s not what you’re saying but there’s a tendency for us technologists to fall in love with our own pet Golums a little too fast and next thing you know, we end up with millions invested in e-commerce instead of trying to get kids educated and the hungry fed.

  2. The Weblog: An Extremely Democratic Form in Journalism

    In this chapter for Extreme Democracy: The Book, a collection taking shape now, I revisit my list, “ten things radical about the weblog form in journalism.” (PressThink’s most popular post.)

  3. I think there’s something missing from the beginning of this piece :

    ” For millennia it has proceeded toward a more scalable and widely distributed form of social control, toward egalitarian politics and markets, toward democracy. ”

    What you don’t talk about is how we got to those central hierarchies in the first place. When we presumably started with a fairly distributed system of highly democratic bands of hunter-gatherers.

    The tone of the piece is basically that improvements in communication technology are taking us on an inevitable journey to decentralization. It might be worth comparing Phil Agre’s use Ronald Coase’s theory here : http://mikro.org/Events/OS/interface5/ms_agre.html

    Things are only pushed in the decentralized / market direction when technology helps reduce market transaction costs *faster* than internal transaction costs. If the technology helps the transaction costs *within* hierarchies more, then we expect to see hierarchy strengthened. (As happened with the rise of empires like the Romans and Incas, based on the improved communication technology of their road systems.)

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