Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Several of us have been talking about a revolution in Japan recently and I've been interviewing many people about their thoughts on the need, the possibility and the correct process.

I think it is clear that it will take something on a revolutionary scale to change the Japanese system enough to make it a functioning democracy. This revolution probably does not involve violence. This revolution will require the people to want change so much that they become actively involved in trying to cause change.

Most people still have jobs and are generally happy. Most people believe that they cannot cause change. And in fact, there is no easy mechanism for the people to cause change.

Several people have suggested that a revolution won't happen until we have a true economic meltdown -- maybe in a few years.

I had several people over to my house yesterday including people from the press, IT industry, financial industry and non-profits ranging from someone in their 20's to people in their 60's. It was my own little deliberative democracy representing a variety of views. Anyway, we talked a lot about revolution. The older participants remembered the student uprisings in the 60's and 70's in Japan and described how they started and were eventually stomped out by the riot police. I talked about how blogs could encourage activism and they described that the way the students got "activated" was similar. We decided that the environment which caused the student uprisings does not exist today and the establishment and its ability thwart such an attempt is much stronger.

So, we decided that we focus not on politics or revolution for the moment, but on "truth." We will focus on having meetings and creating tools to help people in pursuit of "the truth." We talked about many things that we thought people should know and analysis that should be conducted and the members from the media explained that more than any malicious intent, it was the lack of incentive and will for them to spend the energy to do this that kept these sort of things from being reported. Someone mentioned that "the truth" is subjective. Yes. It is. But I think it is much easier to argue for the necessity of knowing the truth than arguing for democracy (a concept that I am find is actually quite alien to many Japanese) or the overthrow of the establishment. I think that blogging, polling and other tools that help us find out what the people think and expose and analyze what those in power are doing will help people become aware and active. That's the first step. We decided to continue to have regular meetings to talk about how to collect facts and highlight important truths.

Good rant from Salam, a blogger in Baghdad about the war.

Salam
What is bringing on this rant is the question that has been bugging for days now: how could "support democracy in Iraq" become to mean "bomb the hell out of Iraq"? why did it end up that democracy won't happen unless we go thru war? Nobody minded an un-democratic Iraq for a very long time, now people have decided to bomb us to democracy? Well, thank you! how thoughtful.
I hope my efforts get support for democracy in Japan doesn't mean that we want someone to bomb us. Someone joked with me yesterday that the US should bomb Japan to democracy since Japan seems to be re-arming and we have a rogue regime. (Once again, this is only a joke...)
Salam
The entities that call themselves "the international community" should have assumed their responsibilities a long time ago, should have thought about what the sanctions they have imposed really meant, should have looked at reports about weapons and human rights abuses a long time before having them thrown in their faces as excuses for war five minutes before midnight.
[...]
To end this rant, a word about Islamic fundis/wahabisim/qaeda and all that.

Do you know when the sight of women veiled from top to bottom became common in cities in Iraq? Do you know when the question of segregation between boys and girls became red hot? When tribal law replaced THE LAW? When Wahabi became part of our vocabulary?

It only happened after the Gulf War. I think it was Cheney or Albright who said they will bomb Iraq back to the stone age, well you did. Iraqis have never accepted religious extremism in their lives. They still don't. Wahabis in their short dishdasha are still looked upon as sheep who have strayed from the herd. But they are spreading. The combination of poverty/no work/low self esteem and the bitterness of seeing people who rose to riches and power without any real merit but having the right family name or connection shook the whole social fabric. Situations which would have been unacceptable in the past are being tolerated today.

Salam also thinks the human shields should go home.

Doug Fox asks some great questions about Emergent Democracy.

I'll try to respond to some of them.

Doug Fox
Question 1: A New Form of Democracy?

What are some illustrations of what your “emerging democracy” will look like? In other words, how specifically will it “rectify the imbalance and inequalities” of the world without jeopardizing the many benefits of our existing representative democratic institutions?

I think that initially emergent democracy should be looked at as something that will be an addition to the current system. I think the initial impact will be in more activity by the people and a clearer more intelligent voice of the people. It seems to me speed has increased with global TV journalism, but that now politics and discourse tends to revolve around short soundbytes. I am over-simplying here, but if you can imaging what scaling of deliberative polling might look like. Add a self-organizing element to this. If there was a clear "opinion of the people" on every key issue, this could help guide politicians and force/help mass media to be less reactive. Eventually, if this "opinion of the people" really worked and became intelligent enough, (This will take some time, I believe) maybe people could play a greater and greater role in governance. Again, I think this is an experiment which will take time, and I am not pushing to replace anything right away. I believe that creating a new voice through blogs is a great way to get started.
Question 2: The Face-to-Face Universe

The Internet does not exist independently from other forms of citizen engagement. From your article, I have the impression that the Internet is a panacea from which will eventually emerge new types of democratic systems and institutions that will solve the ills of society. You do discuss deliberative democracy, but what other types of transformations have to take place in the way citizens engage in face-to-face dialogues and deliberations in order to contribute to the improvement of our political, economic and social structures? And how will these new types of face-to-face encounters work in tandem with your discussion on emerging democracy in the digital sphere?

I also think that face-to-face is very important. I think that the Internet lowers the cost of interaction greatly, increasing the ease of organizing and the value of face-to-face meetings. The Internet is no replacement for face-to-face. In fact, I think the number of face-to-face contacts should INCREASE as emergent democracy puts people in touch with more and more people who they want to meet.
Question 3: Hijacking Self-Organizers

You write, “It is possible that there is a method for citizens to self-organize to deliberate on and address complex issues as necessary and enhance our democracy without any one citizen being required to know and understand the whole… If information technology could provide a mechanism for citizens in a democracy to participate in a way that allowed self-organization and emergent understanding, it is possible that a form of emergent democracy could address many of the complexity and scalability issues facing representative governments today.”

Could you elaborate on this idea? It’s intriguing. What would be a possible illustration on the national level? And if such self-organizing initiatives could be created with the help of information technology, what mechanisms would be in place so that these participative endeavors were not hijacked by individuals or groups with their own political motives and agendas?

I think this is an interesting question. I think about this a lot. I think that the key is that when everyone is active and engaged, it's much harder to "pull a fast one" on them. In a representative democracy, most people don't really know what is going on behind closed doors or what "deals are cut." In an emergent democracy, everyone is watching and the process is quite transparent. This ties into the question about co-opting bloggers, but I think that such attempts would be quickly found out and discarded and that mechanism for detection could easily be put in place.
My question is do you see the co-opting of the bloggers who benefit from the Power Law as a major obstacle to your theory of Emergent Democracy?
No, because I do believe that this is the strength of blogs and other very active feedback networks. It's actually VERY easy for people to join the dialog. For instance, you posted a comment on my blog, and now you are an active part of my conversation. In fact, just linking to me guarantees that I will read what you said, if it is picked up by technorati, a simple process. On the other hand, deliberate attempts to co-opt the community, such as the Raging Cow thing by Dr. Pepper, is a good example of how sensitive the community is to co-option. I think that the more popular your blog is, the more people are watching and checking to make sure integrity and honesty is maintained.
Can the weblog community really come close to replicating the levels of trust engendered by people within communities who have spent life times together engaged in the discussion and implantation of political, social and economic issues?
No. The problem is, many people have only these "strong tie" community trust networks to work with. How else are you going to get to know someone in Iraq, or Afghanistan? The idea of the strength of weak ties is that you need to reach beyond your local network. Also, in an exceedingly open and complex world, you are made to interact with more and more people from more and more places which reach beyond your community. A trust network that spans communities could be built which could enhance your ability to communicate with, interact with and build trust in such a world. Like, face-to-face, I don't think that this new trust network necessarily displaces strong tie trust networks in tight communities, but enhances it by allowing weak ties to be more easily created and managed.

I think you raised some great questions and issues that we need to think about when trying to design the tools for ED. I don't think I answered your questions completely, but wanted to get some thoughts off in a timely way. Thanks for reading the paper and sharing your thoughts.

So here is a great example of why we need to be able to link to stuff and not be endorsing them. From the Goldblogger website (Whuffie=thumbsdown http://www.goldblogger.com/):

Goldblogger
"You can't make money blogging."

How many times have you heard that?

If you are like me, it's once too often!

Who are these idiots that are making these wild claims? Not one of them can offer proof or facts to back up their statements.

But here is the truth.

I am making money with my blogs and so are the big names in the blogging community:

Rebecca Blood
Nick Denton
Glenn Reynolds
Andrew Sullivan
Dave Winer

All of them are accomplished writers and command a large and devoted audience of readers. But it is their entrepreneurialism that sets them apart. I call them GoldBloggers!

Via Chris Pirillo. So Chris, how did YOU find this site? Were you googling for "make money blogging"? ;-)

The emergent democracy paper was scobleized thus:

Robert Scoble
Next time I see Joi, I'm going to ask him how his emergent democracy idea will help get radical new ideas into political life. Letting the masses run things is OK, but you don't get the radical innovations that only a small wacky minority sees at first.

Remember, 50 years ago most Americans thought it was OK to discriminate against blacks. It took a radical minority to push the idea through that that wasn't OK.

Here are my thoughts...

So, in the paper, I am arguing that democracy should protect the rights of the minority while being governed by the will of the majority. In emergence, for instance in the brain, the trick is to allow diversity to stimulate new ideas and creativity.

In Calvin's theory of how our brain works, he explains that the edges or parts of the surface of the brain which are not adjacent to many other areas is where new ideas form which can come back and influence the rest of the brain.

In evolution and the theory of genetic drift and gene pools, it can be shown that when you have large populations, genes tend to stay more similar and drift more slowly but on islands with smaller gene pools, genes can go wild... like the Galapagos islands.

So I believe the trick is to have the various levels. The radical ideas and the great products come from small groups (the creative layer) to be allowed to work on a diverse set of ideas. When these ideas reach a certain level acceptability, the social level (the early adopters?) picks up the idea and "puts it on the radar." It then gives the opportunity for the idea to take a real shot at the masses. If you think about The Woz, I would say that the Home Brew Computer Club was the creative layer where the idea percolated. Then, Silicon Valley (the social layer) decided to give the idea a try. Eventually, it chanaged the world (the political layer). Many ideas don't make it past the first layer or the second.

What I think good emergent democracy will enable is exactly the kind of thing you are talking about Scoble. Right now most "thoughts" are thunk by experts in powerful positions. Was The Woz, an "expert"? Smoking might not have been intuitive, but it took a huge number of people fighting against Big Tobacco for A LONG TIME trying to break through the resistance that Big Tobacco were able to put in place with their money before this thing was able to happen. Couldn't this have been enabled more easily with emergent democracy where the debate could have captured the hearts and minds of bloggers more easily than the years in court that this took for people to notice?

Scoble... why are comments turned off on your blog?