May 15, 2006

Modern Myths And New Realities

One of the few good things that emerges from daily confrontation with Bush & Co's mind-numbingly absurd refusal to engage with good old-fashioned reality is that it forces you to think in broader, more abstract terms. After a while, you begin to realize that human beings like to cling to myths, regardless of their truth, as a way of maintaining social cohesion and even personal sanity. As Petronius is rumoured to have said: "Mundus vult decipi, ergo decipiatur" (the world wants deceptions, therefore let it be deceived).

In that light, here's Joe Costello on The Crisis of Western Politics:
Myths are necessity for any civilization. They help provide cohesion, allowing humankind to gain the benefits of civilization. History is filled with cultures and civilizations where reality has exploded old myths and both a new reality and new myths are born. These are always crisis points in history, a crisis that is magnified by how stubbornly the power structure and societal elite cling to the old myths, because they are the foundation of their power.
This long and rambling look at today's world starts out puncturing a few flawed myths about the nation state, when faced with the realities of globalization. For example:
Many of the current myths of industrial capitalism would take a severe hit in the United States if we were forced to live using just the resources available in the fifty states, thus leading to the biggest myth and reality of industrialism – that the hyper-consumptive American lifestyle is not only sustainable, it’s exportable. The rest of the world can’t live like us.

The United States and the world need to think outside our established economic myths.
These old myths are coming to the end of their usefulness. And the dominant myth is that of the nation state, which is now becoming a roadblock to progress:
On both sides of the Atlantic little difference can be discerned between established political parties. An effete impotence towards the future dominates political discourse. Voting-in the Right or voting-out the Left seems of little matter...

Myths developed over the last several centuries to help define modern Western life, especially in the area of political economy, are failing. Amongst others, the doctrines of the nation state, the efficiency of representative political systems, and the industrial capital economic model of economy all seem to be running headlong into a new reality.
The author says the history of the nation state has been one of "violently forged homogeneity". He calls for a new, information-based "design economy" with "participatory democratic processes and institutions." So what does that mean?
Local election turnouts used to be higher than national, but today our entire politics revolves around the presidency, while the Federal government has become a tragic configuration of power, corruption, and inertia. Washington DC is a woefully ineffective way to process and communicate information, and we are incredulously asked to believe that 535 people can represent 300 million...

Participatory political economy is in its adolescence, it can best be seen on the Internet where its political voice is immature and strident, as it lashes out at the old order that seeks to contain it. Participatory democracy demands ever more openness at a time when our old government structures seek to place ever greater secrecy on its affairs and across our economy mega-corporations seek to fence an open evolving information commons with copyright and patent laws. In our anachronistic copyright and patent laws the new design economy and our old politics most vibrantly clash. The First Amendment slams into the concept of property and privacy, while the ever-greater need for openness makes a mockery of government secrecy.

Participatory democracy demands the revaluing of citizen life. The notion that a citizen's life begins and ends with voting is ludicrous. Now more than ever education and discussion are needed. We must value the role of the citizen as we value our role as economic actors--the two are converging. The architecture of a participatory politics is not that of representative politics. The latter is centralized and hierarchical, while the former will be distributed, a horizontal network, that will have global connections and local vetoes.


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