Technology Will Change Politics From Top Down To Bottom Up

from the but-it-won't-be-pleasant-in-the-meantime dept

Sometimes people wonder why so many people in the tech industry tend to fall into more of a “libertarian” viewpoint on things. Perhaps it’s because they realize the empowering nature of technology to do away with the need for many more centralized top down structures. The reason that we often have big top down structures is because there was no efficient way to spread the control outwards, so you consolidate power at the top allowing someone else to make decisions for a large group of people as their “representative.” However, technology erodes some of that, by creating more efficient means of communication, breaking down the need for such top down control. We see it many different aspects. Companies today are more fluid, with a much more bottom up approach. Products and services that involve a bottom up approach are becoming more popular (and more useful) every day. So it’s only a matter of time until the same thing happens to the government.

It’s almost surprising to find out that there’s a high ranking politician who recognizes this. Apparently the UK’s Tory leader David Cameron made exactly that point, noting that politicians need to let go, and let the technology distribute tasks out to citizens, rather than trying to control everything centrally. Of course, it’s one thing to say it and another thing altogether to do it. Those who came up through the “old” way, which grants more power and control at the top freak out at the idea of giving up that control. You see it today with the way Microsoft reacts to open source, the way the RIAA reacts to Napster, to the way newspapers react to citizen journalism. They close up, circle the wagons and talk about how important that control is — though, not in those terms exactly. Instead, they trash the quality of the more chaotic bottom up system, missing the point that it’s not about the average quality, but the the abundance of options that make quality more personalized. The same thing will happen in politics as well. Many people get into politics (or get hooked on politics) because of the power that comes with it. Getting them to give up that power won’t be easy by any means. But it will happen. It’ll just mean a period of rather painful adjustment.

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Comments on “Technology Will Change Politics From Top Down To Bottom Up”

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dorpus says:

The New Centralism

To the contrary, I argue that new technologies create more homogeneity. English increases its oppressive influence, imposing the language on people who had no contact with it before. Now we have to listen to a million amateur “rock stars” banging out the same noises. Minority voices, opinions are drowned out by mobs of majorities who prowl the internet looking for minorities to bash. In East Asian societies, the net has created a new people-driven tyranny where mobs of nationalists hunt down liberals, send them thousands of death threats, post their personal information online, stalk them with telephoto lenses, and publish the information (some of it false) on anonymous blogs for the world to see. e.g. as we speak, a Japanese kindergarten is being inundated with death threats and false rumors posted all over the internet, with names and addresses of all the teachers and children, because the kindergarten had performed a Korean costume play, which infuriates the nationalists.

dorpus says:

Re: Re: The New Centralism

Even if power is given to the people, they may believe in the same values as the centralized system anyway.

Does anyone want to live in a world where there are a million incompatible OS’s, where each computer requires a completely different set of instructions? The internet is the ultimate centralized system where all computers have to follow an America-centric IP protocol. As for music, any idiot can bang out music on the sidewalk or upload it to youtube, but people prefer quality control — that points to a centralized system of judgement. As for patriotism, that has and will remain people-driven. If people of a given nation perceive an external threat, they will band together and persecute the foreign threats. The internet gives armchair fascists a new way to harm minority opinions. If millions of armchair fascists all make death threats and verbally tear people to shreds, it goes beyond the powers of law enforcement to track down all of them. So in that sense, the powers that be are losing control over law and order — if that is the world we want to live in.

Boost says:

Re: The New Centralism

This is a little off subject, but I wanted to reply to dorpus on this idiocy. The problem with our society today is that every minority is screaming so loud that we have become a society where the rights of the minority are taken as priority over the rights of the majority.

I mean, just take, for example, the story about the guy who wanted a memorial flag sent to his Grandfather with a special message. However, the message (only to his grandfather) was censored by the govermentment because it contained the word, God. Just one example out of many of the minority (trust me, if you don’t believe in God in some form or another, you’re the minority) restricting the freedoms of the majority.

niftyswell says:

Re: Exactly

It is hard to run a communism when people have access to technology that shows them that there is a system out there that rewards hard work and success. Retarded as it sounds where is the incentive to become a doctor or engineer in a society where everyone is paid the same? I certainly would not have nearly killed myself working a full time night shift and going to school full time during the day if there were no reward for it. I would have settled to be a part time taxi driver and threaten to strike everytime it looked like the govt was going to cut back on my benefits!

niftyswell says:

Re: Re: Exactly

niftyswell you were brainwashed to think that being a doctor or engineer should be paid better than being a construction worker. This simply isn’t true. Engineers and Doctors usually enjoy higher jobs satisfaction, while construction workers have to work harder. One uses mind and works hard, other uses body and works hard.

Just like scientists choose to do research instead of becoming richer, if educated correctly, you can brainwash people out of the perception of monetary reward system, but brainwashing has to start early, and any kind of corruption should be punishable by death. Eventually, over 100 years, you will probably get a good society.

niftyswell says:

Re: Re: Re: Exactly

Brainwashed…well, I have been a construction worker and I have been an engineer. As an engineer you develop something that saves millions of lives like cleaning water or developing a pharmaceutical and you get a nice plaque and a 25 dollar gift certificate. You screw up and kill millions of Indians through a miscalculation and get thrown in jail. I have put way more people to work and kept jobs in the country through my work as an engineer than I ever made a difference pouring sidewalks. Difference is not everyone pouring a sidewalk can wade through multivariate differential equations….but anyone can frame out a sidewalk. I think you are the one fooling yourself. If socialism or communism is such a perfect system then explain the high unemployment, massive debt, lack of Doctors, reliance on the US pharmaceutical system…I could go on, but as we all know many of these countries are sending premature babies to the US for care because their systems cannot support the cost. They are trying to justify having people stay at home and have babies or cutting off people from healthcare because of their lifestyle. I visit Europe 6 times a year and they have real problems that no one discusses here on CNN or MSNBC. They also shut out illegal aliens and are starting to cut back dramatically on benefits because they quite simply cannot afford it. Meanwhile, technology here is solving the problems that government is not able to address.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Exactly

Couldnt agree more, if it is brainwashed then explain why we have 45 openings for chemical engineers at my company and no openings for line labor? Maybe we should offer the engineers less money? By the way, with overtime the line laborers actually make more than the chemical engineers…but the engineers who do not get overtime work more hours than the line laborers!

Kyros (profile) says:

Dorpus…the point is it’s moving to the judgement and power of the people. If someone posts a homemade music video on youtube and it sucks, it’s normal people saying so, not the MPAA or The Government or Youtube itself.

The idea isn’t that theres no control or no common protocol, it’s that power is distributed more through everyone instead of just a single control point.

As to you Shohat, I’m not sure if you’d want to call that a social-communism. Yes, thats what it was called, but thats not what it was, ask someone whose chinese. China is a great example of a very critical government who wants to control everything, look up “the great firewall of china” in Wikipedia.

Kevin says:

This sounds very good...and very very bad.

On the one hand, your article conjures images of something more along the lines of a true participatory democracy, rather than the representative democracy that we have today. It raises the possibility of citizens voting directly on bills and making laws, constitutional amendments, etc. There’s potentially a lot of value there I think, not least because it lessens the impact that lobbyists can have on government (or at least increases the spend required to sway a significant part of the population).

On the other hand, it’s truly frightening to me. As George Carlin once said, “Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.” Do you really want someone like that calling the shots? More direct participation in democracy could easily lead to a “mob rule” mentatlity, which I really don’t think that anyone wants. The issues and the legislation that the government deals with tends to be very complex, and even the “experts” frequently run afoul of unforseen side effects of their actions. Even intelligent people are rarely well-educated on anything beyond a few major issues.

UniBoy says:


Maybe U.S. politicians could, you know, just abide by the LAW as clearly spelled out in the CONSTITUTION.

If I remember correctly, those powers not specifically allocated to the Federal Government by the Constitution, were left to the STATES and to the PEOPLE. So, if the States and People simply stand up and ask for what is rightfully theirs, and don’t take “No” for an answer, then we’ll be well on our way to a more Libertarian style of government.

Mike says:

Re: Alternatively...

I agree about the Constitution – but we still have states bending to the demands of the Federal gov’t so they can get funding (from the taxes paid by the citizens in the state) for highways, etc.

I think the technology will enable us to move government to a more local level – then if Big Brother wants to watch us, they’ll have to take it out of their war budget. Because that’s all this “control” really is, a war against the citizens of our country, by those who wish to remain fully vested in their “power”.

Humberto C M says:

A Mentality Change is needed even for us ( to Kevi

We spent so long time with centralized power that we can´t understand how it can work for us.

Just to remember that there are indian tribes composed by a few thousands of people who lived in an organized and harmonic way without the need of police, judges and politics.

I think that the average people may be democratically stupid as a consequence because there were other people taking the decisions for them.

As soon as the society get used to participating to democratic decisions its habits will change and they will be more interested in be part of the process.

Just Me says:


I have to say that having been born and raised in Canada I find the idea of a society where everyone makes the same interesting. Not that I want to try it out as I totally disagree that we should all make the same. Even in the same field – if I work harder then you I want to be paid more then you plain and simple.

I did find this rather disturbing though “any kind of corruption should be punishable by death. Eventually, over 100 years, you will probably get a good society.”
I would think “any kind of corruption” might be taking it a bit far. After 100 years of murdering anyone who is “different” you would have a society of robots – no freedoms, no unique thoughts. The definition of “corruption” would be far too easy to exploit and soon you would see people being executed for anything seen by the majority as wrong; different religions, sexual orientation, ethnic background. Suddenly the authorities would have a means to kill off anyone who disagrees with them in the name of “corruption.”

Not a world I would want to live in.

RandomThoughts (user link) says:

BTR, exactly, if you have to brainwash the people, leave me out of that one.

Power to the people? Where in America is govt. most accountable to the people? Our local govt. You want to talk about corruption? You have to look no farther than New Jersey (with over 100 local politicians arrested for corruption, including school board members) to see that power to the people will not change anything.

You want the people voting on bills? That would be interesting. GWB vetoed a child healthcare bill, doesn’t that seem very bad? Who would vote against child healthcare insurance? Of course, that ignores the fact that some states (New Jersey for one) isn’t covering the low income kids and want to raise the benefit to people with incomes up to $100,000.

You want power to the people? You better accept a ban on abortion, no immigration, reduced innovation (think the poor and middle class would support business) and much more.

Sk00L says:

For the People BY the People

The biggest problem that faces a system of government that puts the people back into the equation as decision makers is education. This is no reason to become stagnate, we owe it to America and future generations to never settle for OK but to always work for better and strive for best as long as it complies with the constitution. A government for the people by the people requires citizens with a sense of civic responsibility and should probably adopt a system of mandatory compliance similar to say Spain where if a person does not decided to vote ( on a mandatory citizen vote) they have to pay a annoying fine say $10 or don’t get $20 on a tax return etc. I for one would support a system that returns the power back into the peoples hands and moving closer to a system that is truly for the people and by the people.

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