Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

I received the following email on the GLT list from Matthew.

Date: Tue Feb 18, 2003 12:01:37 AM Japan
To: GTL's
Subject: Truth, Childish Behaviour and War

1 Truth
The French maintain that Saddam is "a spent force", the Americans are saying "millions may die"; both leaderships have access to the same data on Iraq, but the statements are contradictory. Maybe neither is lying, but surely the "truth" is more than the mere absence of a lie? Doesn't the "truth" means telling things the way they really are without distortion or exaggeration? The lowest point for truth in the Iraq debate was the UK's "intelligence report" which contained bits of an old doctoral thesis pirated off the Internet (with the language altered slightly to make it more exciting).

A London magazine had this to say at the weekend "As war approaches, it will be safest to assume that every statement issued by Washington, London or Baghdad is absolute nonsense".

2 Childish Behaviour
To make things worse, Western leaders have started to use the language of the school playground to describe each other and their respective countries.

3 War
War is a serious issue and needs to be treated with a little more respect, I think this is the main reason why 5 million people protested against war on Iraq at the weekend.


I think the key phrase is "War is a serious issue and needs to be treated with a little more respect". This war is a VERY complicated issue. In fact, it is a COMPLEX issue. It highlights the fact that our representatives CAN NOT understand or communicate the issues. The attention span of the mass media is like the movie Memento and can't remember what it was saying a few minutes ago. It is a structured process breaking down as a chaotic world engulfs it.

I argue in my emergent democracy paper that maybe blogs will enable a process of demoracy similar to the way ants, slime molds and brains "think." The difficulty is that we humans think we're pretty smart and don't trust things that we can't understand or think for ourselves. That's what trust is for. You have to think locally and trust that everyone is doing that. Then you can build a network where no one node knows the whole of it, but it works. Dee Hock who writes about chaordics designed the Visa network to be this way. So if you're an ant, how do you know if your colony is smart? I guess if you're happy, that's a good sign. How do you measure emergence?

Maybe this war is a good opportunity to test whether the war blog debate, the mass media debate, the UN debate or the US government's own internal thinking is the smartest. How do we measure this? I guess you can't... but maybe we can examine the "quality" of the debate.


Interesting thought, and many bloggers think that blogs have something to say about democracy. And perhaps in the long run they will have some value. But at present blogs are hampered by a basic problem that perclude any deep meaningful participation in democracy. And that is based on the issue of access. You can not, and can never, have democracy unless everyone has equal access. That not only means access to the technology, but access to the technology in their own language.

You and I both know how much more difficult it is to do computing, let alone update a blog/web site in Japanese. I first set up a mac to do japanese back in 1992 or 3, and it literally took months. Even a blog is not much easier now.

And each language is an add on to english (or rather american/ascii). As such, each language is subject to the technological hegemony of the american techno-political structure.

How can there be democracy when there is no equality?

For those who do not see what I am saying as a problem, then consider this: to accept the hegemonic influence of another culture/state/technology/language is to lower the status of your own. This is a colonialized mentality and situation. American technological language and American English are the colonialist forces. I do not mean that they are attacking, but that they are hegemonic. And until both America, and English, are *de-centered* and moves are made to democratize the technology and the language of that technology, there can be no democracy *by means of* that technology.

(Sorry for not using any contractions, but I a gaijin using a Japanese keyboard, and I cannot find the single quotation keys.)

This may be off the subject a bit, but I'd like to throw some Eric Hoffer thinking into the discussion and see where it goes. In "The Ordeal of Change," Hoffer said:

It has often been said that power corrupts. But it is perhaps equally important to realize that weakness, too, corrupts. Power corrupts the few, while weakness corrupts the many. Hatred, malice, rudeness, intolerance, and suspicion are fruits of weakness. The resentment of the weak does not spring from any injustice done to them but from the sense of their inadequacy and impotence. We cannot win the weak by sharing our wealth with them. They feel our generosity as oppression.

A little farther on, he says: Our healing gift to the weak is the capacity for self-help.

In 1976, Hoffer wrote:

There is a widespread feeling at present that mankind has come to a fateful turning point. . . . More ominous perhaps are the signs that the weak of the species are about to be elbowed out of their role as pathfinders and shapers of the future. The new revolution in science and technology which has so enormously increased man's power over nature has also enormously reduced the significance of the average individual. . . . a relatively small group of people satisfy all of a country's needs and fight its wars too without the aid of the masses. Man's destiny is now being shaped in fantastically complex and expensive laboratories staffed by supermen, and the new frontier has no place for the rejected and the unfit. Instead of being the leaven of history and the mainspring of the ascending movement of man, the weak are likely to be cast aside as a waste product. One is justified in fearing that the elimination of the weak as shaping factors may mean the end of history--the reversion of history to zoology.

Of course, Hoffer was using the U.S. experience (send me your tired, your poor, etc.) as the basis of his thinking. Still, his book is worth consideration.


Jason writes: "You can not, and can never, have democracy unless everyone has equal access. That not only means access to the technology, but access to the technology in their own language."

This is somewhat true, but the real access that underpins democracy is access to information.

This (lack of access) is why some of the world's more in-your-face democracies are shams. It is also why blogs have a huge role to play: they are, by definition, so far, outside the existing cartel of information feeders.

All good points. That's why I have focused initially on the toolmakers. I think that the tools are still hard to use and not everyone has access. But the emergent democratic process can be tested by those who have the tools. Eventually, the tools will be much more inclusive. I think that the tools are still more accessible and inclusive than the current form of mass communication through the media where a lot of the critical debate seems to be happening...

Yes, good thought to focus on the tools. The slight issue with that is that the tools we use to communicate control how we can communicate and what can be said with them. I'm not a macluhanite, but this idea somewhat predates him, I think.

At present, the tools privledge not only certain kinds of discourses, but also certain individuals. And when the tools are more further developed, there are legit questions as to how inclusive they can be, since they were designed for certain cultures and discourses and not others.

Joi, Yuka and I have been comparing blogs with how many of our japanese friends choose to communicate online, and we've noticed a prefernce for the bbs model. This could just be because you've not sold them all on blogs, yet. But it could also be because blogs are individually centered discourses. We read Joi, and the topics he brings fourth. Or Jason and what he brings forth. But the BBS model (usenet, listservs, etc) are content/topic centred spaces. Cultures where speaking out directly (Hi, this is what I think.), versus communal communicative cultural forms of individual expression within a group (Oh, here's my additive contribution to the whole general conversation), and other variations, all require differing tools to support discourse, and perhaps promote democracy. And when designing tools, I think that designers need to have a massively expansive notion of communication and communication theory in a variety of cultural contexts, or the tools that they create will limit, not expand, what can be said and thought with them. But that's just me.

I'll dig out Liss site for you. She's got a major edemocracy project going that will interest you. Do you know ron diebert as well? They're colleagues of mine, working on similar topics.

Thanks for this Jason. Yes. I just got off of the phone with the Yomiuri who was asking me the same question. Will blogs work in Japan the same way they work in the US. I don't know. I said I think/hope they will. I hope they will unleash the power of the silent majority. I hope that people who now write for the magazines set up blogs. Maybe pesudonymous blogs might also work. I agree that Japanese don't like to speak up, but there are a lot of influential books in the history of Japan so I don't think that writing as part of a revolutionary process is new to Japan. If we can have some people set an example and wake up the silent majority, maybe things will change.

Good to hear that the Yomuri is interested. I would like to see a blogging tool that didn't require a 'fix' to make it do a non-western language. I tried to add the sjis functionality to MT, but couldn't get the instructions to view properly. That sort of impediment.

But then again, having a japanese only Blog would be cool as well, but it would ghettoise the process. I started working on a non-Anglocentric blogging tool a couple of years ago, until funding ran out, and I think it would be best to develop a trans-lingual blogging tool that didn't start with any specific language, but could morph into any language or set of languages.

Gotta get a new job first :)

Hope to hear back from you on the opensource conference topic... might be a good place to voice these kinds of things.

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Joi Ito (my favourite blogger of the moment) muses on the upcoming war and the shape of the debate both in mass media and the online world: I think the key phrase is "War is a serious issue and needs to be treated with a little more respect". This war ... Read More