Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Great paper by James Moore at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society about how the "will of the people" is the emerging second superpower. He talks about emergent democracy, the Internet and gives a bunch of great examples.

In any case, what I most want to share with you is my paper “The Second Superpower Rears its Beautiful Head” (the title was suggested by Esme Bashwiner).  The point of the paper is that “the movement” is now approaching the status of “the second superpower,” after the United States.  This is due to (1) critical mass of people who identify with the world rather than the nation, with each other rather than just themselves, (2) the web and interactive media “neurology” of the movement—including texting, email lists, and blogging—which is giving it a kind of collective mind and ability to act, and (3) the advance of international institutions and international law, which provides a venue or a forum in which the second superpower can work with sympathetic nations to press its cause.  The Bush administration is attacking the fabric of the international system, but it is unlikely to prevail.
Jim is one guy who I was HOPING would start a blog. Thanks to Dave and Doc, he's got one now.


Joi I've been following your emergent democracy topics for a while and hopefully I can email my collected thoughts to you soon, but to tackle Moore's paper I don't think he is correct in that international institutions provide a forum for the vox populi, especially a forum where that voice can effect change. The EU is a prime example where supra-national bureaucrats, unelected and unaccountable, are running things, not the people.

Moore lays claims of "rare exercises of voting" in America, but is every two years not often enough? Surely turnout could be higher, but which is more effective -- a discussion here on the web or a vote that actually decides policy and/or who represents you?

This is also where Moore fails, by distinguishing between the two. He says "where deliberation in the first superpower is done primarily by a few elected or appointed officials, deliberation in the second superpower is done by each individual—making sense of events, communicating with others, and deciding whether and how to join in community actions"

Certainly our democracy is not perfect, but America is not yet an oligarchy -- delibaration in the "second superpower" is what makes the "first superpower" so effective. Moore is attempting to seperate the government from the people when in fact it is a government of the people, by the people and for the people. It is through discussing, whether on the web or coffee shops or what have you, that people decide issues and then proceed to vote on them -- by electing representatives. He writes "the second superpower depends upon educated informed members" but this is nothing new, our founders knew that for a democracy to work the people must be educated and informed. Perhaps Moore is arguing for the promotion of a pure democracy, where every issue is a national ballot question voted on by everyone, I don't know, but certainly representative democracy as we have it(a republic or whatever term you wish to use) has it's merits over this type of system.

It is as if he is arguing that the voice of the people (or perhaps just the people against the war -- his article does have ideological bias) has no effect in government today when in fact it is the very basis of the goverment. "Big" lobbyists certainly have influence, but if enough people in a congressperson's district band together, then they will influence the decision of their congressperson (this is a fact, not just a lesson from civics class). Just because people are on average apathetic or lazy is not an arguement that the people have no voice -- it is arguement to use tools (such as blogging, email petitions) to make them more effective, so that they can see their individual actions are making a difference. The "second superpower" is nothing new, it is merely recognizing that the foundation of democracy -- the individual -- can be even more effective now than in the past.

Moore's article is flawed because he is arguing from a distinct leftist perspective and often resorts to hyperbole (i.e. - "big" oil, "big" tobacco, etc.): "it is difficult in the US government system to champion policy goals that have broad, long-term value for many citizens, such as environment, poverty reduction and third world development, women’s rights, human rights, health care for all. By contrast, these are precisely the issues to which the second superpower tends to address its attention"

Moore seems to be saying the US government has a callous disregard for the environment (or perhaps just the conservatives are guilty of this); that we care not about poverty reduction despite the fact that our poor are better off than most folks in other countries; That the US gives more aid (in total) for 3rd world development than any other country and that, somehow, that defender of freedom for the past century cares not about women's or human's rights. Of course I'm resorting a bit to hyperbole myself here, the point is that Moore disagrees with specific policy issues and just because the US has programs/laws he dislikes, he should not cite them as examples of democracy failing.

Though Moore is correct in that the "second superpower" cares about these issues, they don't all agree on his leftists perspective -- there are quite a few conservative bloggers that while they care about reducing poverty or helping the 3rd world, believe there are other ways to do so than those that say a leftist would advocate. Not all bloggers, for example, believe in health care for all, certainly there are more than a few who will extol the virtues of our free-market system.

So Moore is right on when he recognizes the web will help inviduals enhance the democracies they live in, but he fails in thinking that this challenges democracy somehow. Democracy in America has never been about looking primarily to the government for help, but to ourselves within our communities to solve problems. Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country sums it up best.

Finally (sorry this is long) international institutions aren't going away, but just because they advocate something doesn't mean the "second superpower" should automatically support it. Moore points about how NGO's were able to help argue for the Kyoto treaty, but there are plenty of websites and bloggers (other members of the "second superpower") who make valid arguements about the faulty science and assumptions behind Kyoto, let alone its disaterous consequences for economies the world over. (Certainly the international bureaucrats who would have administered Kyoto could say that "most experts" agree on the science, but this to me is a caution against too much internationalism -- do we really want another level of bureaucrats, unaccountable to the people directly, telling us to "trust them" and "trust the experts" -- it is the responsibility of the "second superpower" to question these experts/authorities). Also, for example, there are serious questions regarding the Internation Criminal Court -- again just because the international community wants something or has noble intentions does not mean that what they propose to implement is a good or beneficial thing.

All this is to simply say that the web enables all ideologies of the "second superpower" to be more effective through their national governments (I don't agree that the end of nationalism is near) so lets all hope that reason and intellectual honesty win out as they (we) debate each other.

Sorry for making my comments so long, guess I was inspired. I"ll try not to do that again.

My view: the populace has a veto of sorts on government policy through electoral action, but it isn't in a position to proactively direct government policy.

I think it is badly mistaken to consider the reaction to the current crisis as the beginning of a new age of emergent democracy, not least because it didn't work. Whether you love it or hate it, the will of Big Government held sway in the decision to attack Iraq. (Whether we like it or not the die is cast now and there's no retreating.)

Disagree with Scof re the EU. The EU is no less democratic than the nascent US were. It is also unfair to call the EU undemocratic without looking at its wider context. (I also disagree with Scof about the ICC, Kyoto and probably a bunch of other things, but that's another day's work.)

Agree with Scof that the blogosphere is a mucho diverse place and that Jim Moore may have overgeneralised.

Okay, last comment than I promise to stop and sit back & learn the errors of my ways :)

I just wanted to make the quick point that most individual Americans (i.e. - the "second superpower") support the action in Iraq, polls consistently show, so it is not just big government doing it. Not to say the protesters don't have a valid criticism or that any of this matters since the die has been cast as Antoin said.

As far as the EU, I would just simply contend that as far as the 1st draft of the EU constitution goes (19 pages!?!) that there will be more bureaucracy & less transparency than the US (I'm sure you hear in the euro news the words democratic deficit all the time -- but of course the EU is unique in that these aren't "states" like Florida coming together, but seperate countries & histories and it will take some more time for everything to work out to be sure so I could end up being wrong). I also think that effective democratic representation can best be guaranteed at the level of the nation-state.

BTW, awesome domain name Antoin, you must've got up bright and early in the 90's to grab that one. I'm of Irish descent and would love a domain name like that. cheers!

That "the will of the people" can achieve, and maybe has already achieved superpower status seems a positive thing. What scares me is that "the movement" might somehow come to embody or dominate Emergent Democracy by virtue of being so effective at amplifying minority opinion so quickly after the basic tools to enable such self-organizing systems became available. Something that actually "encourages broad participation in the democratic process" would be far more desirable.

emergent democracy is all fine and well, but i think more participation, like scof points out, is a necessary condition before you get 'emergence', or at least effective emergence :D mayhaps participatory economics (parecon) need go hand-in-hand with emergent democracy and the second superpower? cheers!

Well Scof you really got going--that is what debate is for..thanks!

A couple of places I disagree with you. First, I think you are too sanguine about the first superpower being free of special interests. Consider the Digital Millenium Copyright Act--clearly purchased by large media companies, and a net loss to the commons. Or how the Regional Bell Operating Companies fare in telecommunications legislation and regulation, to the detriment of new entrants and new ideas. Or how legislation/licensing favoring college community radio is attacked by both music publishers and media conglomerates. I really do think the system is massively captured by special interests, by means of campaign contriburtions and lobbying.

Second, I need to clear up a misunderstanding. I am not arguing that majority opinion in the US makes up the second superpower. What I believe is that worldwide, somewhere on the order of 10% of developed world societies, and perhaps 1 or 2% of developing world societies shares a certain orientation: they identify with the world more than the nation, and they are broadly collaborative/pluralistic/egalitarian in values. This group, while modest as a percent of total population, is large by absolute numbers. 30 million in the US alone, perhaps 40 million in Europe-and Joi can suggest how many in Japan. And this group is increasingly well linked web-wise. It is this combination that I think has become important--as an actor the can work through national systems, but sits outside them, as well. In the world but not of it. And I think it is important that this capacity be developed even further, not only to balance the US, but to balance nation states.

Be well! Jim

With all due respect, but I consider the article as slightly naive and wishful thinking. What is referred to as the Second Superpower is neither new, nor is its formation surprising. And its longevity is questionable.

In fact I would say that this Second Superpower is actually the First and Single Superpower, i.e. plainly "the people". There can only be one! Thus this underlying people power makes and breaks any derivate or subset power. What this means is that a country like the US is simply a subset of all people. This subset contains yet other subsets, and so on. If enough people within that subset wish to dissolve an entity, given the right conditions this will occur (e.g. Soviet Union).

Now, the interaction of elements within any set, or even between sets, can be made more difficult or facilitated. Interaction is defined by exchange, in our case the exchange of information. Our current means of communication are only a natural extension and evolution of the other forms that came before it and revolutionised interaction in much the same way (printing press, telephone etc). The actual progression is that, as everything else, it happens on a larger geographical scale, it's gone virtually global. But in principle it is hardly new. Governments and commercial entities have done the same things earlier, even on the same scale, simply because they had the resources and there was a requirement and motivation (politics, trade etc). The common citizen had neither, the world for him was local and progressed via regional, national, continental and has arrived at global. So have many other important things (climate, economics, politics).

Yes, the power of the people is the ultimate power, if and only if directed toward a common goal using mutually agreed means. Mind the last part. In reality these conditions will rarely if ever occur, simply because of diversity. In this particular crisis there isn't much discriminated diversity, given the superficial issues ("war or no war against Iraq"). Very likely that a consensus is reached on such an superficial level. But start asking people how things should be handled on a more granular level, and your consensus will fade away into the usual diversity. In other contexts things won't be as simple.

Without channelling, the proclaimed Second Superpower will quickly fracture and implode into insignificance. The result will be common opinion-gridlock. The best means we currently know for channelling is a system of indirect representation, states and governments. This is also where the slow bureaucracy comes in. Any other would quasi-anarchy, who can shout the loudest, or hit the hardest.

The rule of the majority (democracy) is not necessarily the best ideal outcome for a cause, but in theory it appears as the most fair. Or to put it provocatively: a qualified and well-intentioned dictator may be better than an unqualified and mis-behaving government purportedly elected by the majority of its people. :-)

While everyone has a voice now, the result is not automatic consensus or the most desirable outcome. There will be more talk, more thought which of course is great (esp. in Japan, where there's little discussion culture). But, the future lies in successfully managing a diversity of opinions, on a large scale, probably by selected representatives. While our means of communications have an impact and facilitate matters, they have nothing to do with with the content. It's all down to the people sitting at either end of the conversation.



I'm a black, Native American, native New Yorker, and I get quite a shock when I hear someone say of America, as Scof says:

April 2, 2003 06:08 AM
"... in fact it is a government of the people, by the people and for the people...."

April 2, 2003 07:47 AM
"I just wanted to make the quick point that most individual Americans (i.e. - the "second superpower") support the action in Iraq, polls consistently show, so it is not just big government doing it. "

Which people are you talking about, I wonder?

As far as I'm concerned, America is a plutocracy with a thin, increasingly ineffective veneer of democracy. And even that is a function of privilege. With the bald "selection" of Bush and the unconscionable Jeb Bush initiated elimination of close to 100,000 (mostly minority) Democratic voters from the rolls in Florida 2000, and Bush's blatant and quite unashamed exposure of the incredible level of greed, arrogance, inhumanity and stupidity that actually runs America (parties bedamned, for the most part) it's unthinkable to me that my country can be seen as a democracy. Hell, it wasn't truly a democracy in the first place: it was a well-meaning (for the right people: there's that "which people?" question again), painstakingly-written human experiment, with a big helping of hypocrisy built into it from the start...
Sigh. Okay, I want to be a uniter not a divider:-), so I'll say this: If a tool like blogging will put a large enough group of people in touch with each other, and also connect networks of people who now don't seem to communicate with each other very much, and if they have enough common understanding and agreement to move en masse, then I think blogging can help lead to at least a more honest representative democracy in the US, and to the steady rise and connection of like-minded people in other countries (on their own terms, I might add).

Couple of links that explain better than I what our "democracy" is up to when it's at home.

angry black voters
Congressional Black Caucus on Iraq

nose back to the grindstone,
PS: this is an excellent blog, thank you Joi!

There's a good discussion going on at MetaFilter regarding what The Register sees as usurpation of the Second Superpower meme.

A short list of participative democracy papers in no particular order:
James F. Moore, The Second Superpower
Joichi Ito, Emergent Democracy
Adam Greenfield, The minimal compact: An open-source constitution for post-national states

Then there's the matter of the creative commons, not so much a paper as an tool--where to start? Recommend both Lessig Blog Archives: creative commons and Creative Commons.

Andrew Orlowski, writing in the Register, UK, does a nice analysis of the growth of the phrase Second Superpower across the net and its rise to prominence on the net and on Google; where it is now the first three listings. But he's wrong to consider the fact that a few A list bloggers have "gamed" the system and "poisoned the well."

A few key influencers have an inordinate influence on the viral growth of trends. That?s a basic tenet of the Tipping Point, that a few people in the East Village started the wide spread popularity of hush puppies, etc. This is a fact of viral social networks and for Orlowski to label that as a perversion of the system just displays the fact that he does not understand the ways ideas disseminate.

Two CEOs and a Wall Street analyst and I were key influencers in another meme (net markets) arising through the network of the b2b e- commerce world back in 1999, and I got rich off of it. We didn?t game the system or abuse it. We saw it and rode it. Cultural waves happen. They happen faster now. Google makes it more visible more quickly.

On the other hand, his mapping of the meme's growth is right on and his analysis of the ephemeral nature of the new power is also something I hadn't thought of.

Where is the effective force of this new second superpower? That should be the focus of his essay, not the way the idea reached prominence. Critique its true weakness, not its delivery mechanism.

As Sterling said in his Wired essay on Dumb Mobs, P2P is not an effective political architecture. I believe in emergent democracy. I'm just not sure it's evolved into a potent force yet.

The US government was not chosen by the people. This president is making a mockery of the Constitution. So it's high time the people started governing the US.

Re: The Public

We know the definition of economics and politics. That they are both about human Collectives. In economics the Collective is called a Company and in politics, a Government. We agree that they are closely intertwined and that, that can be a weakness in both if they start serving each other and not their shareholders, or clients.

Could we also agree that their common PURPOSE is the collecting, transformation (improvement) and distribution of energy in the form of money, skills, collective resources and services. Viewed in this way, the difference seems to apply only to the scale of operation.

They are also both ecologies. Managers, Employees and Customers just like Governments and Nations, inherit a status quo and culture held up (or down?) by the vested interest of every bread-and-butter employee of that Collective. Hierarchies everywhere have an inherent inertia.

To a large group of well-informed people, the so-called Second Superpower, or Cultural Creatives, there is no doubt that the world is in need of a Paradigm Shift in the way governments as well as companies are held accountable to the planet and its people as a whole as well as to each other.

Tripple bottom-line accounting means simply looking at an auditable sustainability report alongside an economic one and should be applicable to both institutions. A Transparent State is an Auditable State is a Self-regulating State, if there is a strong and effective enough feedback mechanism.

e'coNopoli'tics applies the capitalistic - and quite natural - principle of competition, also to the State.

The ecoNopolitics Government Inc. has the Public as its Board, Internet as its Boardroom, Vote Servers its Notary, Sustainability Incides and the Budget its Annual Report. Ministers are Executive Directors, MP's and DG's are Gerneral Managers.

It is not a position of fame, but of service. Representatives are elected on the strength of their qualifications and have to survive re-election every 2 years. The public knows them by text-only, certified CV's and Views. Campaigning is not allowed. I am prone to feel that this is a small casualty in, akin to the demise of Stock Options for directors.

Party politics (which is far from "politics" in the sense of "exercise of the will of the people") would not be allowed in Government, Inc. Why would it work in Public Administration if it doesn't in companies larger than most governments?

Shareholders (taxpayers) would expect complete and efficient service. Indices, Internet and the media gives the electorate the kind of insight into the business of government that shareholders in companies can only dream of.

Governments, like companies, should also be able to downsize. Government can not be an end unto itself. Good governments, like good engineers, work themselves out of a job, but continue to be in high demand.

Similarly, market growth-forver Economies doesn't tie up with the rationalisation that its Mother-ecology, the planet Earth, requires. Economies are organic by the very fact that they consist of humans. Organisms which grow unchecked by its host are called viruses, cancers and weeds.

From an economic point of view, Nation States must surely present themselves as an uncompetitive ringfence and artificial division of resource and reward. Exchange rate fluctuations only benefit those who can "play the exchange". Money for the sake of money. Reap what the whirlwind sows and turn up the whirlwind generator a notch.

To their credit they (Nation States and National Economies) are - however flawed - still meaningful administrative units for logistical services within a geographical/ethnical and cultural guardians to the extent that their borders are "fair" and their custodianship effective.

I would propose that in a Post-National world, governments could inherit the administration of the geographical area they have always represented, but that citizens could belong to any country who would accept them, wherever they lived, and would stand under the laws of that country.

For companies, this would mean that employees could belong to any guild which would certify and regulate the profession. Workers would be affiliated with a company on a transactional basis to contribute under the conditions of service/contract of their Guild, over and above core company policies. for the duration of the contract. A Guild (or Consultancy?), as another Trust Entity, should be auditable for its EVA per member.
Guilds could also provide some form of unemployment insurance for their members and act as custodians for Open Knowledge sources.

Any nation in an ecoNopolity may enforce laws relating to core human right violations against anyone within its borders, but its own laws beyond this, only against its citizens. Nations may not restrict the movement of citizens, but may govern residency within its geographic area. Allowing extradition is implied.

Citizens are taxed by their Geographical Government (its their public services they use) and vote for their Home Government. This "freedom to" is balanced by a "freedom from": no-one can be discriminated against because of their . Only state officials may request those within its border to divulge their "nationalities". This is a minimal compact - multi-tiered, modular (object-oriented?) and open.

Association and judgement by choice, participation in commons administration by necesity.

I would contend that this is the failure of the communism and predictor of failure for a new socialism that slices all of Mankind into three layers like a cake. There is no dividing line between Capitalist and Worker, or Techno/Manager. Notwithstanding the brilliance of Dilbert, we are all human and find our positioned imposed on us. They are not and may never be closed groups.

There are many (especially in formerly communist, colonised, regime-weary or conflict-torn areas, I would image) who could be convinced that territorial division is artificial and destructive. Hierarchy will always produce a "bottom-of-the-foodchain".

To quote Savage Garden: "I believe the struggle for financial freedom isn't fair; I believe the only one to disagree's a millionaire."

We see Government like all our bosses: we're convinced there's a ton they're not telling us and that they're all a bunch of yes-men, kissing up for the Big Positions. That "meritocracy" is based on how good you can convince/sell, not on how you can deliver, when "merit" is decided subjectively. "I have to vote for these parties/ kiss up to the boss 'cos who else is there?"

In the wake of our fearful pasts, a political party, union, clique, hierarchy or sub-culture -sometimes even a state - too often represents a (sub) mob-united-by-a-common-enemy: the other (super) mob-united-by-a-common-enemy.

This could be said of any division for the sake of the existence of a category. There are some words which need exclude none: Public, Internet, Open Source, Ecology, Freedom, Neighbours, Friends, Family. Why not Economy, Nation, Government and Company?

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