500BC A democratic system of
governance is first recorded in Athens. Decisions are made by a show of hands – a unitary or direct democracy in which everyone takes part.
A.D.1648 The inviolability of the
‘nation-state’ is created by the Treaty of Westphalia. Monarchs agree to recognise each others’ sovereignty. This locks down the global governance structure for 365 years, and counting.
1860s+ Political internationals unite labour
activists across borders – an early global political movement. While they have some success, notably the eight- hour day, nationalism proves a stronger binding force, and the International collapses by 1914...
1918. 1945. The world wars
are followed by grand changes to the international governance structure - always in the form of new institutions.
Postwar period The objective of
world peace drives idealistic thinkers to consider world federalism. In the US, a ‘Sense of Congress’ motion is passed for ‘strengthening the UN and seeking its development into a world federation’.
60s, 70s, 80s So world
federalism fails. But globalisation takes off: neoliberal economic ideas and powerful multinationals open up the world to market forces, encouraged by international financial institutions.
60s, 70s, 80s In three
decades, the world sees the invention of satellite TV, Eurobonds, oil crises, special economic zones, booms in jet flights, international finance, shipping, and growing cultural hegemony...
In the 21st century, policies
must be sought to deal with climate change, economic shocks, pandemics, terrorism, financial risks, trade barriers, transnational crime (human trafficking, drug trafficking, money laundering), poverty and inequality. The success and democratic nature of those policies can no longer be guaranteed by national institutions. Too many variables lie outside the scope of the nation state.
“Ours is a world in
which no individual, and no country, exists in isolation. Pollution, organized crime, and the proliferation of deadly weapons likewise show little regard for the niceties of borders; they are problems without passports... Kofi Annan (Then) UN Secretary General
One idea is global representative
democracy – a logical next step from having a local representative, a national representative and, in some cases, a regional representative (as in Europe, and proposed in South America and Africa).
Advocates of global democracy should
abandon domestic analogies. Instead, they should imagine a ‘non-centralised, non- territorial, non-exclusive system’ of governance. Heikki Patomaki (adapted) Professor of World Politics, Helsinki
“The first basic principle to
ensure an inclusive, tolerant, respectful and decentralised world order is global deliberative equality” Anne-Marie Slaughter Professor of Politics, Princeton
“Democracy is about communication as
well as voting - about social learning as well as decision making. It is the communicative aspects that for the moment can most straightforwardly be pursued in the international system.” John Dryzek Professor of Social Theory and Political Theory, Australian National University
A perfect deliberative environment would
be where everyone can access any information. And anyone can converse with anyone else. Where everyone has the power to produce information that can be shared instantaneously anywhere in the world.
Huge population figures are a
problem for representative democracy (and hierarchical organisations in general) – but they strengthen global deliberative networks, creating broader and deeper conversations.
Jakarta Tokyo London Sao Paulo
New York Bandung, Indonesia Paris Los Angeles Chicago Riyadh, Saudi Arabia Singapore Istanbui Osaka Toronto Madrid Rio de Janeiro Seoul Miami Atlanta Houston
In their idealised* form, microblogs
spread information meritocratically (with varying understandings of merit). Everyone has the same format to use, the same ability to mention others or repost others’ posts. *problems discussed later
Global disease information used to
be shared between governments via the World Health Organisation (WHO). But this meant that governments could hide embarrassing or trade- threatening outbreak information.
ProMED-mail was a simple email
list for epidemiology practitioners to share worldwide disease news, set up in 1994. It created a network of professionals who shared the latest disease information from across the world.
As a result, the nation-state
members had to change WHO’s rules to allow it to share non-state produced information. ProMED-mail ended a monopoly on disease information. It provides more people with access to better information, leading to a safer world.
The Sistema de Alerta de
Desmatamento (Deforestation Alert System) connects activists to monitor satellite data on rainforests. It has the potential to become a mass collaborative anti- deforestation effort with global benefits.
The project was created by
Imazon, a Brazilian NGO, now supported by Google. As Google’s lead mapper said: “a collaborative monitoring community, powered by the internet, [has] never been possible before.”
Ushahidi (testimony or witness in
Swahili) is a public monitoring platform that crowdsources its information. It was invented in Kenya to map election- related violence. Citizens could send SMS and email updates to be published on the map. It’s now in use for all kinds of projects across the world.
This kind of conflict data
used to be the preserve of intelligence agencies, the United Nations or national governments. Once anyone anywhere can use this platform to contribute information, power shifts to the information-producing public.
All three examples are really
about participative creation of knowledge. If knowledge is power, this matters. But what if you wanted to act on that knowledge? How does digital democracy result in participative solutions or service delivery? For example, the activists monitoring deforestation can’t actually do anything about its increase, right? Because digital collaboration doesn’t create enforcement mechanisms...
Even this is changing. At
one extreme there is digital vigilantism: the enforcement of global norms by private actors. ‘Anonymous’ hacked Israeli websites in response to the government’s threat to shut down Gaza’s internet access.
Less drastically and with significantly
more activity: offline commitments are inspired by digital networks. Digital communities are funding and supporting direct action around the globe. A range of new platforms is making this easier than ever.
The classic ‘earthrise’ image is
thought to have boosted ‘global’ movements. It helped people visualise themselves as members of one home – a single shared space, without borders.
Now, with digital social networks,
we can visualise not only the shared space, but our connections with people. There are one billion people on Facebook. The average path between any two of them is just 4.3 friend ‘hops’.
But private companies will have
to be more open too. They are increasingly subject to consumer control. “social production is reshaping the market conditions under which businesses operate.” Yochai Benkler Professor, Harvard Law School Author, ‘The Wealth of Networks’
Digital democracy might suffer from
a tyranny of those who show up. Who really has the time and energy for this stuff? Is Wikipedia a democratic information platform when only 0.13% write it?
But the transparency afforded by
digital media enables a record of who did what. The nature of digital communications makes it easy to keep commenting, debating, editing and re-editing. Reputations matter.
But smart users can get
around censorship using proxy servers. And ‘netizens’ will develop simple acts of ‘everyday resistance’ – vocabularies of dissent, codewords and underground discussions. There have been, and always will be, ways to escape censors.
Ultimately, it’s the numbers. China
might call in the army to monitor microblogs, but they’ll still never control hundreds of millions of internet users. In the long run, the people win.
Do notions of solidarity or
allegiance change in the digital space? Do digital social networks reduce a sense of otherness and boost cosmopolitan identity?
Do notions of solidarity or
allegiance change in the digital space? Do digital social networks reduce a sense of otherness and boost cosmopolitan identity? How are all languages and cultures engaged in a global deliberation and participation space?
Do notions of solidarity or
allegiance change in the digital space? Do digital social networks reduce a sense of otherness and boost cosmopolitan identity? How are all languages and cultures engaged in a global deliberation and participation space? Can open internet access, literacy and a robust digital infrastructure be ensured for all?
The Internet was developed in
the 1960s. The World Wide Web, which allows information to be linked globally and viewable through a browser - was only created in 1991. In the two decades since, we’ve experienced a slow-burn revolution. Imagine what another two decades might do.
Earth sunrise/Moon earthrise: NASA Tahrir
Facebook: rouelshimi Imazon screenshot: Google Protestor: murplejane All-seeing eye: cobalt123 Frog silouhette: ggalice UNPA emblem: UNPA Notepad: melstampz Amazon rainforest: CIFUR Starlings: Elsie Esq. Chain link fence: Thomas Hawk Network: sjcockell Stopwatch: wwarby Euro Parliament: Xaf Security Council: riacale Athens/Pnyz: : qwqchris Mathematical shape: Melisande World Economic Forum: WEF Westphalia: Gerard Ter Borch Napster: pasa47 Yochai Benkler: arcticpenguin Kant portrait: v Wikipedia A-M Slaughter: personaldemocracy LazyCat: Nicola Albertini The Crucible: drurydrama H1N1 Virus: AJCann (CDC) Internet World Map: Jeff Ogden 1914-1918: yeowatzup Avian Flu Sign: Incessant Flux Internet truck: ALEMUSH 1939-1945: Kaptain Kobold WHO speaker: US Missn Gva Internet switch: Mike Licht UN Charter: UN Photo Facebook world; Facebook via dullhunk 1999 Battle in Seattle: Steve Kaiser Love(Heart)Peace: israellovesiran.com Number on wall: Pink Sherbert Posters: Freestylee Library: 96dpi Incoming tide: Tim Donnelly OccupyResist: Devon Shaw Crowd: Alex Kess Olympic Stadium: Nick Webb George Monbiot: v Wikipedia Lobby: SEIU International CERN NeXT: coolcaesar Annan TV: Dark Inertia Johan Galtung: Manipulating Light Joe Nye: dsearls Wall St English: futureshape Richard Falk: UN Geneva
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How digital communication creates the conditions for global democracy