Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Inspired by Clay's claims about the power law distribution of blogs, I've been thinking and writing (with many others) about emergent democracy in the hopes that blogs will not create an elite ruling class, but will allow direct democracy to emerge from the chaos. The irony of my technorati and daypop rankings increasing because of this does not escape me. It feels good to get attention, and this feeling is the lust that drives people to stare at power law curve. Liz and I were chatting in IM about this today and she quoted: "One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them." So, who is the Frodo Baggins of the Internet? Are bloggers hobbits? Who can resist the power law distribution and try to create a more democratic process.

It is not just the Net that suffers from this. In my attempts to change Japan, Oki Matsumoto and I have been plotting the overthrow of the ruling elite. The problem is, to change anything in Japan, you have to be powerful and elite. Once you are powerful and elite, it is almost impossible by definition to overthrow yourself. We are thinking about setting up an organization with limited terms for leadership positions, mandatory retirement at a certain age (You can move on to the next platform.), and a variety of other measures to prevent people from accumulating too much power. I don't know about Oki, but I definitely have the "urge" to take control and lead this thing to the end. But I know from watching all of the others that it will eventually go to your head and you won't realize when you're not as smart as the "followers". It is only at this moment where I have enough power to organize, but not to control, that I must help forge the rules to prevent anyone from spoiling it for the rest of us in the future. I trust my ability to resist the urge to abuse power today, but history shows that most of us are not hobbits and this ability to resist becomes exceedingly difficult.

I would like to quickly point out here that competition is at the center of a healthy market and I would not want to question the value of competition where you have a mechanism to keep it fair. It is in power law distribution oriented situations where power accumulates beyond fairness. Bill Gates lives on the edge of this definition.

So, is lust for power uncontrollable? I don't think so. People have sexual lusts and they overcome them to make society possible. People lust for big SUV's but the US seems to be making it politically incorrect to fulfill this lust. We have lusts of many kinds, can't we try to condition ourselves away from the lust for power? Hollywood movies tend to reinforce the lust for power. Maybe it starts by changing the role models in society?

What is this leadership thing anyway? Dee Hock has a great piece about how leaders should focus on managing their superiors first and peers next and that the followers are the ones who manage the leaders. Emergent leadership is not about control or taking power, it is about ethics, integrity and holding together so that you are empowered by others. A system that promotes leaders quickly as necessary and destroys leaders who retain power for power's sake is what I want.

However, whether we promote good leaders or bad leaders depends on the people. The people will get the leaders that they deserve in such a system and the burden will be on them. (Which, I think is how a democracy is supposed to work.)


Joi, Oki,

Recommend you borrow or buy the entire set of 'Star Wars' films. Pay particular attention to the words of the sage Yoda: "The dark side is quicker, easier, more seductive." "If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny." "If you choose the quick and easy path, you will become an agent of evil." "A Jedi's strength flows from the force but beware of the dark side." "Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. The dark side."

One of the realities of modern life is the importance of "concentration". To build a successful business, you need to concentrate capital - you can't just have it spread evenly all over the place -. (Whether you concentrate it through venture capitalism or through state ownership is a moot point.)

Similarly, to succeed at something as big as changing a society, you have to concentrate and control a lot of power.

I think it is harder than it looks to hold a great deal of power. I think the biggest thing I've learned (the odd time I've had a little bit of power and from powerful people I've known) is to be respectful in your thoughts and deeds towards people less powerful than yourself. They may not understand the problems you face and the realities of power, but it's not their fault. (And you might as well be nice to them on the way up, because you never know when you'll need them on the way down.)

Joi, Oki,

Recommend you borrow or buy the entire set of 'Star Wars' films. Pay particular attention to the words of the sage Yoda: "The dark side is quicker, easier, more seductive." "If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny." "If you choose the quick and easy path, you will become an agent of evil." "A Jedi's strength flows from the force but beware of the dark side." "Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. The dark side."

One of the realities of modern life is the importance of "concentration". To build a successful business, you need to concentrate capital - you can't just have it spread evenly all over the place -. (Whether you concentrate it through venture capitalism or through state ownership is a moot point.)

Similarly, to succeed at something as big as changing a society, you have to concentrate and control a lot of power.

I think it is harder than it looks to hold a great deal of power. I think the biggest thing I've learned (the odd time I've had a little bit of power and from powerful people I've known) is to be respectful in your thoughts and deeds towards people less powerful than yourself. They may not understand the problems you face and the realities of power, but it's not their fault. (And you might as well be nice to them on the way up, because you never know when you'll need them on the way down.)

I think power and the search for it is obviously deceiving. One finds the power the crave and realize "it's not enough". It never is. I haven't ever been able to understand the thirst for power for it's own sake.

Leadership, while having to deal with power, is not inherently about power or gaining power or all that. It can be about making something good, leading creatively to make the world better, through whatever it is you do. It can also be about helping others to become better through the act that you lead.

Hmmm...thoughts along the same lines as those I and some friends have been having lately, specifically around the idea of built-in, structural limitations to power.

We're particularly interested in the idea of distributed states - post-national entities that, contrary to Antoin's take, spatially and demographically deconcentrate power. We've been trying to do this in light of the lessons of the French and American revolutions - the point at which the social movement that gives you the Declaration of the Rights of Man becomes the Terror, and a society ostensibly founded on a Bill of Rights gives you John Ashcroft.

And hopefully, we're coming at this from a perspective that is neither "left" nor "right," but simply pragmatic and humane.

This all sounds well and good, but how would such a thing actually be enacted? How on earth would you convince the current entrenched elites to let power slip from their hands, at least without a bloody fight? We've got some ideas.

If you're interested in further, drop me a line. Don't want to highjack this comments page with a dissertation...

Interested in the post-national entities ideas. Is there a website somewhere??

There will be. Email me if you want the prerelease paper, thanks.

Reading your paper "Emergent Democracy" I was impressed by your total lack of any awareness of how legislative bodies function, about how governments function, or about political theory generally. Even if we have tools to make direct democracy possible, in certain limited contexts, it simply doesn't follow that it would be a superior form of government to representative democracy.

You're welcome to read what I've written about your paper on my blog. While I tried to be nice, it's hard to take any of this seriously.

You don't come off as the kind of person with whom dialogue might be possible...

But good to know that somebody has everything figured out.

Your comfort is my main concern, JJ, but if you can make a case for direct democracy -- and specifically why it has the potential to deal with complex problems better than our present system of representative democracy by subject-matter experts -- I'd like to hear it.

Hmm. You refute yourself, you know.

Carol Moseley-Braun: hobnobber with dictators, or "subject matter expert"? Trent Lott: unrepentant bigot, or...? You get my drift.

These people were hardly selected by virtue of their merit, nor of their ability. Do you really wish to attempt a proof that this is the best of all possible worlds?

There are two tracks in the Congress: the leadership track and the committee track. On the committee track, members slowly move to the chairmanship of the committee dealing with their area of interest over the course of some 20-30 years. As most significant legislation is written by committee chairs, by the time a Congressman arrives at a chairmanship, they are indeed a subject matter expert.

Neither Lott nor Moseley-Braun has ever been a chair.

And this system is enunciated where, precisely, in the Constitution?

Apparently the power, lawful or not, comes from the quality of the network, so rather than "Gee whiz, look at all this power," ask "Hmm, what is causing this trend toward increasing power?" and "Is it useful for making things like direct democracy happen in a meaningful way?" Reference Reed's Law and modest personal experience in two paragraph article.

Instead of viewing 'resisting the lust for power' in absolute terms, maybe we can set up a scale. Historically there have been times where a Samurai or Knight could kill a peasant(in their own territory) with no fear of consequences.

I don't think we can set up a system where lust for power will never pose a danger any more than we can realistically eliminate disease, but we can certainly improve our healthcare and sanitation.

On the other hand they can also get worse if we don't value what we have and the price paid to achieve it.

Legislative Branch, Article 1 Section 5:

"Each House may determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two thirds, expel a member."

Oh my god, you really want to play this way, don't you? You know as well as I do that "government by subject-matter expert" is not among the principles of jurisprudence on which America was founded. If you want to legitimate your assertion, you'll have to do better than citing that particular precedent.

What exactly is your point, anyway? If I read you correctly, you mean to reinscribe the Platonic assertion that the masses are too ignorant and/or easily swayed to be trusted with the details of their own governance. Yet you offer no proof of this assertion, nor can you.

The "masses" could hardly do a worse job than the "subject-matter experts" you lionize. We recoil instinctively from the specter of the "mob," but how many mobs have ever done anywhere near as much damage as technocratic elites? (The name of Robert MacNamara springs to mind. There are others, too, but I don't want to be cited for a Godwin infraction.)

Even were your SMEs philosopher-kings, which they are assuredly not, they've made a dog's breakfast of our Republic, and a worse mess of Japan.

The point, Mr. Greenfield, is that a subject-matter expert system has evolved, quite organically, in the legislative bodies of our representative democracies without any coercion by their respective constitutions, which are certainly open to more ostensibly democratic forms of governance. The proposed "emergent" system would whipsaw legislative decision-making away from specialists and experts in favor of the common denominator of direct democracy.

I maintain that the de facto rule of competing experts has evolved as a practical solution to the complexity of modern life and the need of legislative bodies to create programs that function well in real-world conditions. Lovers of emergent systems have yet to demonstrate specific defects of this system, and how increased participation from pedestrians with computers would yield better results. Not only have they failed to demonstrate that they have a superior system to offer as an alternative, they have failed even to present a credible argument for direct democracy.

Rather, they expect us to take as an article of faith the notion that direct democracy "couldn't possibly be worse" than representative democracy. Yet we know that many systems of government are much worse than representative democracy: the genocidal dictatorships of Iraq and Zimbabwe, for example. Given that many of the advocates of "emergent" systems are also supporters of Saddam Hussein's government, I suppose this claim shouldn't be surprising.

All I'm asking for is the tiniest inkling of a clue as to why direct democracy would do a better job of say, creating a welfare system, than the present system has. And all I get are diatribes, misdirection, and false displays of emotional distress.

Your side isn't looking good.

Mr. Bennett. I don't know a single advocate of emergent systems who is a supporter of Saddam Hussein. If you are referring to those of us who oppose the unilateral war initiative by the United States, you don't sound like much of an "expert".

My argument is that it is possible that new technology will finally make emergent democracy possible, but that we have a long way to go and we need to begin designing tools to enable such a process. I try to outline examples of emergent systems solving complex problems and try to discuss some of the possible ways to think about our tools in this context. This is about the future. Why not give it a try instead of discarding it in such a dismissive way? Even if you believe it can't be done, why not provide something a bit more constructive in your criticism.

I do believe that the representative democracy is a great form of democracy, but can't we work on trying to evolve it? Technology enabled financial markets to take on a completely new form. Isn't it possible that technology may change the way we govern? Why not explore?

You say in your blog: "Geeks probably do think they understand these things despite the fact that they've never really studied them and couldn't give a coherent account of how any of these things work at a significant level of detail." What level of detail do you refer to? I have drafted bills, participate in political campaigns, sit on government inquiry committees, tried to protect people from injust charges by the police by being expert witness in court, actively lobby bureaucrats and poiticians, provide mentorship for governors, etc. I've spent approximately 1/3 of my time over the last decade actively involved in every aspect of the democratic process in Japan and am immersed in the detail. I would like to add, that there aren't enough geeks interested in government. We need more geeks. There are too many people trying make policy who don't understand technology and as Lessig says, architecture is politics. Trying to make policy without understanding the technology behind it is like trying to argue in court without a knowledge of the law. I think that discouraging geeks from participating in a debate about democracy is about as destructive as you can get for the possibility of trying to create tools that enhance democracy.

Having written this comment, I wish I had spend this 15 minutes I just spent writing this, writing something more constructive so I hope you will excuse me if I don't engage with you in this level of detail in the future.

My point is simple, yet you don't grasp it. I believe it's possible to build systems that would make direct democracy possible; it's almost a trivial exercise. My question is why it would be worthwhile. Just because we can do something, doesn't mean we should.

Why is direct democracy superior to representative democracy?

The evidence that we have from the initiative process in the US does not suggest that direct democracy is superior, and in fact quite strongly supports the idea that we need less direct and more representative democracy.

It doesn't seem like an unreasonable question.

You know, Richard, when you've been offered simple, locally testable assertions as to why direct democracy *might* be worth adopting, you've dismissed them, in a stunningly facile manner, as "mumbo jumbo."

You throw around a lot of scare words - and in fact, your attempt to associate any participant in this discussion with Saddam Hussein would be terrifying, if it were not so laughable - but you're failing to understand the central point here.

Have you ever considered that the very existence of more than a few intelligent and motivated people who are willing to undertake the godawful-dull, thankless work of imagining and fleshing out a new system of governance and jurisprudence might point to some underlying lack in the currently available alternatives?

You think you can scare folks off with allusions to *The Republic*? Ha! The price of entry to this debate is being willing to acquaint oneself with three solid millennia of prior art, from Plato to Locke to the POUM. And that's just on the political side - then there's the network theory and complexity stuff to wrestle with.

Now I have a job, and it pays me well. I have a lovely fiancee who deserves my attention, and a book to write, and friends to see, and meals to cook, and a motorcycle to ride. Are you really going to suggest that I've taken up this task out of ego, or self-delusion, or naivete? There's something wrong here, and the folks posting on this board (if I may be so bold as to speak for them) aim to find out what it is and attempt a repair.

Again, this probably does not stem from a feeling that we don't know what to do with our abundant spare time. I might go so far as to suggest that reimagining our damaged system of governance is among the highest duties of a planetary citizen in 2003.

Are we all dupes, then? Do you know so much better?

Why is direct democracy superior to representative democracy?

I'm not arguing that all direct democracy is better than representatie democracy. I am arguing that examples of emergent behavior show that a group of elements without centralized control can exhibit "intelligence." Is there something we can learn from this? Is there an equivalent "intelligence" effect that can support a new form of democratic process. Could this emergent democracy be capable of tackling complex problems that ordered systems can't in the way the brain can think things that computers can't? What sort of tools enable such emergent behavior?

I am asking questions. I am pointing to some parallels and examples. I'm asking people to think.

Tool-building is a discussion that geeks are always going to find comfortable because it doesn't force us to examine our prejudices in the way that careful analysis of a problem and an examination of possible solutions does.

Our ability to think is precisely the thing that differentiates us from ants, and people have been thinking about government for a very long time.

Information is a key component of government. The printing press changed the nature of government. Advanced information technology is new. Isn't there a possibility that IT will impact politics the way the printing press did? The public in its current form is a product of mass media. Can't the evolution of media cause an evolution in the nature of the public?

After all, the linear technology of printing accompanied/enabled the rise of the nation state. Why shouldn't hypermedia give rise to its own characteristic form of governance?

(Yes, I know how "1994" that sounds.)

The Quakers operate by community consensus; while unlikely to achieve consensus, perhaps we could implement something similar.

IT allows information to spread and percolate much faster than was possible before. But good information is only half of good management and good leadership.

The other half is decisionmaking and execution, and this is where the problems arise. Just because there's a mechanism in an organisation or group for collecting and disseminating information and opinions, it doesn't mean that there's a mechanism for making collective decisions and putting them into effect.

It's not clear that hypermedia represent the kind of advance in human civilization that the printing press did. The printing press, after all, enabled the creation of mass media where none had existed before, and it enabled the creation of mass education where none had existed before, and spurred scientific and technical advances in a dramatic way. The printing press literally created mass culture out of nothing, while all that hypermedia have done is speed up the flow of information a bit. If printing is like the automobile, then hypermedia is like the Interstate highway system: a nice enhancement, but not really all that dramatic.

Hypermedia have already impacted politics at several levels; we now have legislative bills and history on-line, which enables smaller and less-well-funded advocacy groups to see what goes on in our legislatures without relying on the media, expensive legislative information services, or phone calls to legislators' offices. This in turn has given rise to e-mail petitions and broader representation at legislative hearings, and increased voter feedback to legislators. I've been using web sites and blogs to help in lobbying the California legislature since 1995, and many lawmakers have told me that opening the process up to the Internet has changed the way they do things in subtle but noticeable ways.

But these changes have been much less dramatic than Emergent Democracy supposes, and the potential for improvement, while not trivial, doesn't suggest that we're going to be in a position to abolish legislatures any time soon, if ever. It still takes time to examine policy alternatives, and the weighing of factors is still subjective. Most of what legislatures do is technical and of very little interest to the average citizen, and it will always be so.

What we can expect from electronic activism is increased participation in the legislative process by experts and activists who are fundamentally outsiders, and this often does bring a fresh perspective. I have, on occasion, obtained amendments to bills by sending e-mail from the lab while running tests or long compiles. This wouldn't have been quite so easy a few years ago, but it depends on my having established a reputation and personal relationships with lawmakers. I've also trained certain committee counsels to search my web sites for letters of support and opposition on bills, and have seen these letters make their way into the committee's analysis of these bills without my even having to send in a letter, which is nice. It didn't change the world, but it did save me some time and allow me to participate in the process while holding a day job.

But politics is ultimately a matter of direct, human interaction, and this is as it should be and as it will remain.

- pure "direct democracy" can/does/would suffer from "too many (unqualified) cooks in the kitchen"
- representative democracy, as we have it today, sems to suffer of "career politicians", "celebrity", over-legislation and under-management, and powermongering (isn't democracy supposed to protect us from that?)

Now, let's step back and look at what, ideally, government *is* and *does*:
- management of resources
Simple enough, no? ;)

Ok, what is politics?
- debate and decision. A conversation, in essence. data in, data process, data out.

Obviously a vast over-simplification. Mr.Bennett, please don't eat me for lunch. However, I think Mr. Ito's intent here is to "get the ball rolling", and he's done so very well.

Let's imagine possible future evolutions of the technologies we're talking about here (the 'Net, "weblogging", et al), and let's forget the "digital divide' as well for a moment. After all we are talking in hypothetics here. ;)

Easy, open communication and conversation. Authority tracking/checking. Theoretically, decision-making CAN happen, incorporating the voice of far more people than semi-senile senators (I bet that phrase was heard more than once in the halls of Athens and Rome!)

As for the management role; government representatives could also continue to be elected, but perhaps in a more "real time" fashion. A representative 'elected" for a specific task. Once done, back to being just an available candidate, most likely wit a day job as a manager, or lawyer somewhere... Administrative tasks would still be done by government "employees', as they are done now.

It's all wildly utopian, but discussing it can only help, and for the first time we can actually begin to see *how* it could be done.

It would also help if we could tone down the human ego. (Not you Joi-san! I mean generally in all our lives! :) I suggest reading "Zen Lessons: The Art of Leadership".

I think Ito-san's notion is much more radical than simply reforming government: he believes that electronic communication over the web or some successor to it will someday advance the human race to a state of hyperconsciousness, where our god-like wisdom will make all problems trivial. It's a good enough notion for a sci-fi novel, but it's probably already been done.

After reading his comments here, one could only continue to hold that belief if one were either more than mildly stupid, or engaged in a knowing and intentional mischaracterization of Joi's thought. Surely you see this.

Antoin, I agree about execution...

"It's not clear that hypermedia represent the kind of advance in human civilization that the printing press did." No. It's not clear. If it were clear, we wouldn't need to ask the question. What is the point of discussion if you already have all of the answers? We're trying to imagine and think. We're not in a billiard ball styled UN "negotiation" bouncing positions against each other. We are trying to sincerely understand the points and positions of each other and trying to come up with something new.

Mr. Bennett. If you are looking for a debate for the sake of debate, I would suggest you go to the war blogs. If you wish to engage us in a critical discussion, I would suggest you try to understand our position better before you make dismissive comments which do not add value to the discussion.

I apologize if you find our nerdy utopian view offensive, but I would suggest you come back and attack us after we've assmiliated the constructive feedback and integrated it into our thoughts. My paper is still weak in many ways and we have a long way to go to build a rigorous position. I think everyone else including the critics are trying to help, where I don't get that sense from your comments. On the other hand, I don't get a sense that you tried very hard to understand the arguments in my paper so maybe a more rigorous position on our part will not improve this situation...

Well said Mr.Ito !

One correction of Mr.Bennett:

"The printing press literally created mass culture out of nothing, while all that hypermedia have done is speed up the flow of information a bit."

This is utterly false. Mass culture existed already in the form of the oral tradition (witness the communication technology built-in to indo-european languages) and hand-written documents. The printing press "sped things up a bit" and you better believe that very few people saw where it would take us back then (heck it took almost 400 years for journalism to pop it's head up after that).

"Hypermedia" is speeding things up ALOT. A heck of alot. The ffects of which we can see unfolding in a matter of days and not years, decades and centuries.

Mass culture over time:
1- oral tradition: localised, slow and limited reach, unfaitful/unreliable reproduction.

2- written documents: more reliable reproduction, still slow and limited dispersion

3- printed documents: even more reliable reproduction, greater dispersion and distribution (due to volume of availability, and demand!)

4- "hypermedia" documents: global, instantaneous (almost), carbon copy reproduction.

"Sped things up a little" is short-sighted in the extreme, sir.

My synopsis of Ito-san's argument derives from these two statements of this: Is there an equivalent "intelligence" effect that can support a new form of democratic process. Could this emergent democracy be capable of tackling complex problems that ordered systems can't in the way the brain can think things that computers can't?

Can't the evolution of media cause an evolution in the nature of the public?

What am I missing if this doesn't forecast hyper-consciousness and superior collective intelligence?

Can't the evolution of media cause an evolution in the nature of the public?

The emergence of the printing press catalyzed a major change in how "the public" conceived of itself; in fact, we might well say that the very notion of a "public" is a consequence of moveable type, since it didn't emerge in quite the same way in cultures notso equipped. Nothing science-fictional about it, although arguably it invokes a perfectly natural "superior collective intelligence."

McLuhan proposed this idea in, I believe, the late 1950's, but at any rate, it was firmly part of his shtik by the time *Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man* was published.

Go back and read, Richard.

Go back and read if you sincerely want to offer meaningful input. Otherwise, if you can't be bothered to do some basic homework, or to read things sincerely and contextually, stay on your nasty site with your nasty sycophants, because you're just wasting time and burning energy that could better be turned to other uses.

1- the blogosphere very well may be a collective memory, the access of which may very well allow collective discussion and decision making. Any "collective intelligence" is for now sci-fi-ish. Memory, however, is plenty and the ability to communicate, paramount. Web=memory, Net=communication, Human Users=intelligence.

2- McLuhan spoke a great deal about the effect of media (as in plural of medium, and not what we've come to think of as "the media") on culture and psychology, as wella s the effect of instant global telecommuncations.

The McLuhan Program at the University of Toronto has a very good weblog going, maintained by Mark Federman, "Chief Strategist".

...And you know what, Richard? Before you make some snide comment about the irony of that last statement, or about how it's a pretty sad sign if the thin-skinned advocates of emergent democracy can't take a little pushing back at their ideas and so forth, consider this:

If the idea is so risible, why come here at all to piss on our gate? If emergent democracy is so absurd, so unlettered, so riddled with contradictions, it will collapse of its own weight quite soon enough without your assistance.

Nobody participating in this discussion has ever claimed that these are anything but initial probes, statements of interest and intent. I really don't get your hostility - I don't understand what it gets you, or anyone for that matter.

I think this is the last comment I will make to you. It's getting me nothing, it certainly doesn't do anything for Joi - whose site I have never forgotten this is - and I strongly doubt you get much out of it but a certain never-wrestle-with-a-pig satisfaction.

I have stooped to your level, it leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth, and I regret it.

It's really amazing, Adam, that you continue to accuse me of some sort of hostility, rudeness, or arrogance simply because I take issue with Ito-san's claims that the web will someday make us smarter. But I suppose this highly emotional and rather hysterical display on your part is probably no more peculiar than Ito-san's refusal to acknowledge what he's saying. Try to focus, if you can, on the first group of statements I quoted: Is there an equivalent "intelligence" effect that can support a new form of democratic process. Could this emergent democracy be capable of tackling complex problems that ordered systems can't in the way the brain can think things that computers can't?

While phrased in the form of questions (possibly confusing due to an apparent punctuation error), the underlying sentiment, and the fact that these statements referece a rather long document, suggest that Ito-san does in fact believe that there probably is an "intelligence effect" that will facilitate "problem solving".

Therefore it's reasonable to summarize the argument for tools to faciliate group behavior in the hope of bringing about social change as I have, that is as an aspiration to an evolution to a higher state of collective consciousness. Authors have speculated about higher states of consciousness for both the individual and the group for millenia, and there's nothing shameful in this line of inquiry. But my god, speculate on this subject is you're going to be too embarassed by accurate summary to admit what you're doing?

It seems that you're engaged in an oddly self-defeating exercise.

Pardon me, but my penultimate sentence should read: "But my god, why speculate on this subject if you're going to be too embarassed by accurate summary to admit what you're doing?

I wouldn't want to confuse with opaque prose.

Regarding the paper itself, I would suggest taking a look at the conclusions. Generally, the conclusions in a scientific paper, or even in an intentionally thought-provoking piece of wild speculation, will not meet the reader as surprises. That is, there should have been support for the conclusions in the body of the paper, but for the most part these strike me as coming out of the blue. That's not to say that they may not be right, but simply to point out that they haven't actually been supported and therefore aren't conclusions as much as brand-new claims. That's not good rhetoric.

If that's all you meant, you certainly didn't say that.

Look, the Web has already made us smarter. In economic terms (if, that is, you accept the whole foundational assumption of modern economics), resource-allocation decisions are rationally made, by rational actors, acting on the best possible information available. Right?

A low-cost-of-entry, near-real-time, globally accessible information source counts for rather a lot in such calculations, I would imagine. Which is to say: if that isn't smarter, then what is?

No matter how much you portray your mischaracterizations as "accurate summary," they are still either the product of poor understanding or patent bad faith. If you weren't so intent on looking for points to ridicule, you'd know this.

Has the web made our politics smarter, Adam?

Ask me again in a month. If the bombs still haven't fallen on Baghdad, then I'll unhesitatingly answer "yes."

So it's smart for tyrants to torture, rape, and oppress their citizens, to commit genocide, and to commit acts of aggression against ones neighbors, all the while thumbing ones nose at International Law, but it's dumb to depose such tyrants?

You do indeed have an interesting attitude toward democracy.

Groan. Despite that vile smear, surely you understand that there are more reasons to oppose this war than the desire to coddle Saddam. Surely you do.

Here's a list of a few possibilities - and I ask you to remember, in trying to puzzle out which might be mine, that I've actually served my country at arms. Which, incidentally, is something I do not believe you can say. OK, ready? Here we go:

- Absolute pacifism, whether as a matter of religious faith, derived from first principles, or otherwise
- Enlightened self-interest, i.e. the reasoned belief that an American invasion would trigger yet more bloody attacks on population centers and/or a global economic collapse
- Belief that the enunciated case for war does not yet meet a given threshold
- Belief that the case for war is incapable of meeting that threshold, when other means to achieve the same end are available
- Budgetary pragmatism, i.e. the reasoned belief that the valid aim of deposing Saddam is simply not worth the impact on the treasury
- Disinclination to underwrite unilateral policy of this type
- Belief that, geostrategically, the US cannot afford to provide precedent for preemptive attacks as retribution for violations of international law
- Belief that there are other matters more pressing - that Saddam is, yes, a Bad Man, but simply not that big a threat right now (and in any event, has less blood on his hands than Henry Kissinger, and you don't see aircraft carriers and armored divisions circling his M Street digs...)

This list is somewhat less than exhaustive.

Exactly, Adam - the human capacity for self-deception is boundless, such that 65 years after these arguments were made against the US entering World War II, they've come around again.

I really would like for somebody to build some tools that would disabuse humans of such ridiculous ideas, and actually increase the reach of democratic values, but I'm not encouraged by what you write. Not even a little.

That's because I believe that the only way to promote world peace over the long haul is to depose tyrants and grow democracies in their place. Making excuses for fascist regimes simply isn't part of this agenda.

They have you hook, line, and sucker, don't they? Do you honestly mean to tell me you believe Saddam has anywhere near the ability to commit organized mayhem that Adolf Hitler did?

At times in this little debate, I thought I was arguing with a learned, though oddly stunted, individual. But your last several comments reveal you to be utterly ignorant of knowledge outside a narrow ambit, incapable of making elementary distinctions, and unable to avoid the grossest form of slander when you have nothing left to stand on.

When you couldn't counter claims about the reality or practicability of direct democracy, you wriggled off to whine that we were Internet dorks making grandiose and science-fictional promises about hyperconsciousness.

When that feeble taunt, too, was demolished, you resorted to essentially ad hominem calumnifications about "coddling dictators," and when I demonstrate that nothing of the sort motivates any of these discussions, finally you slink off to the ultimate refuge of the person with not a shred of fact or credible argument on their side, the Godwinesque "1938" trope.

You're bankrupt, pal. You are well and truly out of it. Your views are baseless, your slimy evasions are obvious, and frankly, if you said as clearly to my face what you had no problem saying on the screen, I'd break your jaw.

But then, I bet I'm not the first person to feel this way.

Think about this tonight, Richard: When have you ever in your smug and comfortable life risked one second of privilege or freedom to counter evil? You have a long, long way to go before you DARE to lecture people who have.

My goodness, Adam, you do impress me with all your bluster and bravado - I can see what a peace-loving man you really are.

I'll just simply make this one observation about your latest descent into madness: neither you nor anyone else in this discussion has offered any evidence of "the reality or practicability of direct democracy", so it's not been necessary for me to deal with any such evidence. Not that I haven't asked for it, mind you, but when are you going to drop the pretense of being in favor of spreading democracy when you clearly aren't willing to pay the price?

Design me a Saddam-deposing tool and I'll change my tune, but until then I have to conclude that you're just a waste of bandwidth.

Bye bye.

This is really some interesting reading. Such spirit! However, as the risk of beting a nettiquite nag, I'd like to restate some time-honored advice:

Don't feed the trolls.

I don't mean to accuse anyone of malicious intent, but it becomes clear about half way through this discussion that the interlocutors are no longer discussing the relevant ideas; they are taking potshots at one another. This is likely the result of our charged political environment and the salient original subject matter. It churns up a lot of personal stuff to talk about the nature of power and governance, hence the inevitable descent into the wildly offtopic (but needful discussion) of Iraq. Sigh.

In any event, here's my two pennies worth:

I found Mr Ito's paper quite exciting. As a younger person who's grown up with technology as an integrated part of my life, I understand that I see things differently than my parents generation. I see opportunities for technology to redress certain imbalances within our lives. At the same time, I also see ways in which technology can be used to cement the elete and freeze true creativity and discourse. I'm heartened to find people with more expertise than myself are engaging the same mental struggles that crowd my mind as well.

As someone with a burgeoning political consciousness and moderately strong ambitions, I feel frustrated that most avenues to power seem to require one to make certain sacrafices which I am not inclined to undertake. Particularly here in America there is what I call a "vernacular of bullshit" which surrounds almost all powerful institutions. This goes beyond merely diplomatic behavior and into outright doublespeak quite often. It is the modus operandi of Corporate America, most elements of government and much of the mass media. It is a source of much consternation and cognitive dissonance in my daily life.

I sense intuatively that this is related to the imbalance I perceive between the average person's creative output and consumptive input, and I also sense that the implications of massively concurrent bi-directional communication between peoples (e.g. the internet) could be a key component in resolving this.

I wonder, Mr. Ito, if you're familiar with Pierre Bourdieu and his notion of Autonomous zones? Briefly, he states that in modern society, because of the integrated nature of life, the heierarchical nature of power and the constant presence of market-forces, there are very few diciplines or places where creative effort (work) is undertaken for any sort of virtuous end, very few "autonomous zones." Bourdieu cites poetry and academic mathamatics as two examples of these sorts of spaces, but if he were alive and clued in, I can only imagine he would cite the Free Software movement as another, and possibly certain corners of the blogosphere as well.

What interested me about your paper was the way in which it seemed to suggest a network of interlinked Autonomous Zones, each manifesting it's own Truth and collectively dictating the course of human events. While this is admittedly a high-level and somewhat etherial idea, it is also quite exciting. I would not dismiss these possiblities as mere pipe dreams as Mr. Bennett seems to want to do.

Thank you Adam Greenfield and Boris for directing me to this interesting conversation among various people and the loquacious Richard Bennett. (BTW, my blog entry regarding this thread is actually here.) In that entry I describe that Ito-san's seminal paper, "explores the true role of the Internet in a form of democracy that is neither representative, nor participational, democracy. It is filled with the kernals of many important ideas that relate to the potential dangers of technologies used by our conventional representative democracies, and the practical problems of dealing with complex issues that plague a participational model."

Mr. Bennett: I suggest to you that our current form of democracy - regardless of how it is actually implemented in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, France or elsewhere - is the result of a very long process or continual refinement. This does not necessarily mean that it is the optimal form of governance, merely that it is the surviving form of governance in the developed world.

We know (well, sorry, I know... I don't mean to speak for the knowledge of the rest of the world, or even the rest of the participants in this lively discussion) that most people are unaware of the effects of the things we conceive or create at the time they are indeed conceived or created. It is only after the passage of a great deal of time do we look back and realize, "Ohhhhh.... so THAT'S what I did...." often followed by the "if I had only known then what I know now..."

We have fallen into our current systems of democracy by these default (and some may say, defaulted) actions over time. The reason they have survived is that they work, more or less, for most of the people who are not particularly paying attention all the time. And, let's face it, at steady state, not much is required in the way of imaginative initiatives or inspired leadership to keep things going, more or less.

However, we are hampered in our analysis by this precise inability to perceive the ground, that is, the context, of our actions in our own time. We have all grown up in a representational democracy, in a world whose culture has been dominated by the effects of the book, the press, and the television. The collection of those media (and yes, representational democracy is a medium, as are the mass-media I identified, pretty much anything else we come up with - I often ask my students to contemplate the media effects of pizza, but that's another story...) prevent us from perceiving how they have structured our thinking. (See Derrick de Kerckhove's book, Brainframes, or even go back to McLuhan's Gutenberg Galaxy.) The natural question that emerges is, "given that we are measuring our democracy against other forms of government that all exist in the same context, and emerged through the same historical period, how do we know that it is (a) absolutely the best; and (b) will remain the best as our culture structurally changes.

"Structurally changes," you ask, Mr. Bennett? Yes, indeed. As predicted by McLuhan in Understanding Media and elsewhere, the underpinnings of our modern society have structurally changed, from one founded on the basis of literacy and "the book culture" (accelerated by friend Gutenberg) to one that retrieves the orality of Ancient Greece, due to the Reversal effects of instantaneous, multi-way communications. This reversal is profound, as we have become tribally restructured. Easy contemporary evidence of this is seen when what potentially might happen to members of our tribe in Iraq causes pain and reaction in members of our tribe elsewhere in the (sorry for the obvious cliché) Global Village (but given where I sit, I'll claim authentic usage of the phrase.)

Other evidence of these effects are seen in the rise of a universal language (English) as a response to the reversal of literate culture (that itself led to the fragmentation of language and the acceleration of vernacular or national languages.) These aspects of scholarship are well documented by people who are much smarter than I.

This simple realization, that our world is in the throws of such a significant reversal means that our cultural institutions (including the ones by which we govern ourselves) must, of necessity, change. This sort of change is anathema to those whose interests are vested in the current systems, in other words, the experts, or if you prefer, the "subject matter expert politicians" who have spent 20 to 30 years of their lives vesting in the existing system. Of course they would resist the change by raising arguments that amount to "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." Any change in the existing system belies their expertise - they can't be experts in a system that is founded on a different ground. Of course they will be completely unable to see, not necessarily the deficiencies, but certainly any advantages an alternative system would bring. Such awareness, as McLuhan reminds us, is like asking a fish to suddenly become aware of water. One thing about which fish know absolutely nothing is water, since they have no anti-environment that would allow them to become aware of the element they live in.

So it is with those who are both vested in the current system, and those who are unaware of the restructuring effects of the very medium we are using to probe this issue.

Mr. Bennett criticizes and would terminate the exploration proposed by Ito-san and the many other contributers to this embryonic effort, simply because we cannot, a priori describe the benefits of what may be the eventual outcome. However, an exploration is precisely that: the search for what MAY be found at the end of the exploration. There may be value in what is discovered along the way, and there may be new paths that are found that lead to entirely unforeseen destinations. After all, that's how the "New World" was found in the first place.

Hence, it is irrelevant to debate the merits of what anyone may conceive to be the endpoint of "Emergent Democracy." It is the exploration itself, in the context of the realization that we have indeed restructured the underpinnings of our civilization, that has value.

Thanks, Mark, for that needed gust of sanity.

Outlandish josh, just one quibble: ALL generations have grown up with technology integrated into the fabric of their lives. (Which wit defined "technology" as "something invented after I was born"?)

If you're interested in Autonomous Zones, I think you might well dig my paper on the minimal compact at


Thanks Josh and Mark. I agree that autonomous zones are relevant. Also, the notion of temporary autonomous zones as they related to ad hoc emergent leadership is an interesting thought.

Thanks for the great comments Mark. There is a lot that I am learning about the mechanics of developing an which have surfaced during this process. The different frameworks and vocabulary from the different disciplines also affect greatly the way and reality that people perceive. McLuhan's thoughts on how language affects people's perception are extremely relevant I believe.

In that sense, I throw around a lot of political words like "direct democracy" which have a lot more baggage than I realized. I need to go back, qualify my comments, dump stuff that has too much baggage and is irrelevant and reinforce some of the weaker elements. Having said that, the core group of people from a variety of backgrounds who have been sending me feedback have helped me find the strengths and weaknesses in my arguments very quickly and will help me greatly in charting the course for my text mental excursion. I am going to have to hit the books a bit more before I will feel comfortable taking a pass at version 2 of this paper though…

Adam, I just finished your paper. Will comment after I think about it some more...

A hot topic indeed, thanks to Joi's paper more people are thinking/blogging about possible improvements to the way democracy functions. Although Mr. Bennett seemed bent on 'why' it would be better, as opposed to it couldn't be any worse.

I have a couple of thoughts after reading this thread;

- Citizens pay their taxes and deserve a better opportunity, as shareholders, to have more input in the way they are represented. They have a vested interest, but it is not corporate stock and therefore not an optional investment. As such "of the people, by the people, for the people" should not continue to be an empty rhetoric of days gone by when technology in the current sense was not available. Politicians have been watching the polls for years, this is a logical evolution, after-all people have fought and died for the right to democracy, if technology can enhance that vision it's worth pursuit.

- As the saying goes "two heads are better than one" it would seem natural (and evident by the intelligent postings here) that some good ideas will come from outside the halls of power. A case in point is the story most should know about a little girl in New York who suggested letting air out of the tires of a truck that was wedged into the Lincoln tunnel. All the professionals on the scene must have blushed about how such a simple yet effective solution came from 'outside' the scope of their combined expertise.

Mr. Bennett's final post is the strongest supporting argument of all;

Comment from Richard Bennett on February 28, 2003 10:16 AM
"Design me a Saddam-deposing tool and I'll change my tune, but until then I have to conclude that you're just a waste of bandwidth. Bye bye."

mmm.. wasn't it the US government that got into bed with that 'mad-man' in the first place during Iran-Iraq war..?!? Then perhaps this IS the very tool he was asking for.. ;-)

Several thoughts:

1. That Mr. Bennett IS a piece of work, no?

2. I wonder if he, and others, are aware of emerging capabilities like

3. It seems obvious (to me) that the 'Net is more than a souped-up fax machine, Look at this "comments" area, for example - conversations like this, moderated online (as people like Howard Rheingold and Lisa Kimball, ex of TMN, now at have been doing for years) are effective means of building awareness, knowledge and consensus. This means did not exist prior to the Internet and the continued evolution of smart, smooth, omni-directional software.

Not all people just passively take in images and sounds - as may be the case with mass media (CNN. CNBC, etc.). When engaging in conversation online, one must read, then think, then think again, and then write something more-or-less coherent to reply. Done with respect and using active listening, this dynamic has every chance of resulting in both personal growth and a felt sense that you may have contributed "another piece of the puzzle" to someone else - if only by posing an interesting question, or pointing out something in a way that helped someone else understand differently than they may have previously.

Doing this online IS different, IMO. Conversations on the phone - unless they are frequent and bounded by an ongoing purpose, words often "evaporate" or are subject to (sometimes) faulty memory. Letters, faxes, copies of articles - well, I've had my fill of paper-jammed offices (I still have too much, but that's because I'm a Tweener (between the Silent Generation and the Digital Generation)).

Here - online - you participate because you want to. The most blatant exercise of "power" is to ignore someone, or to feel ignored. Otherwise, you're part of it, baby, and thanks for that.

4. I, for one, remember when desktop PC's first came into the workplace. For the longest time, I think that the perspective of the top dogs, the decision-makers, the "big swinging dicks" (Michael Lewis, Liar's Poker)was that these PC's were replacements, faster versions, of the electric typewriter. Secretaries, organized creatures that they are, learned how to manipulate formats and presentation templates, and make the bosses' ideas more or less intelligible. Of course now it's 2003 - we are beyond several waves of young MBA-toting analysts, who also came to terms with software and interconnectedness much more quickly than the bosses.

Many of those top dogs are still executives - remember that effective browsers only became reality about 6 or 7 years ago, and yet we all seem to share, except for the odd moment, the banal view that what we see and use now is the way it will continue to be.

Personally, I don't think so. I think we're gonna have a wild ride as the technologically-almost-illiterate Boomer generation begin to retire in large numbers, being replaced each and everyone by the GameBoy Google generation (my nephew grokked Google when he was 6 years old ferChrissake - at 6 I was playing jacks in the school corridor, and the turn dial on our B&W TV had only 10 or 12 channels).

I, for one, think that the big changes - in capability, and in how we govern ourselves and are governed, are yet to come.

I am beginning to believe that the definition of good leadership is a drive TO power in order to prevent the misuse OF power.

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