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Internet as a democratic medium
by E. Prugovecki
15 July 2002 20:54 UTC
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I found it intriguing to read today, under the subject "Noreena Hertz on
Globalization," the transcript of the interview of Noreena Hertz by Bill
Moyers, since only a week ago I referred to that interview in the article
"Utopianism and terranism" that appeared on July  8, 2002 on the H-Utopia
discussion network


I used the crucial role that Internet played in spreading around the news
about the events in Bolivia (while all the other media ignored it) as an
example of the future role that the Internet and its future more
sophisticated versions might play during the possible emergence of a new
"world system," which I call "terranism." Such discussion groups as WSN
might want to take note of these ideas as guidelines towards not only
discussing issues, but for eventually arriving at some constructive
decision via a mechanism which I call "coordinated group decision making" -
cf. the web site www.wfs.org/prugovecki.htm

I shall reproduce below the most pertinent parts of the aforementioned
article, whose fuller version is due to appear on the Utopias Forum web


REVOLUTION. For all those who view utopias simply as self-indulgent
fantasies, let me hasten to add that, as a scientist, I view them instead
as the type of sociological model building that is an essential part to the
contemporary process of scientific investigation and discovery: models
might not survive, or might have to be drastically modified when confronted
with reality, but without posing them first, and then investigating them,
scientific research would be a purely hit-and-miss enterprise.


The idea of "terranism" as a model for a future "world system" was
presented in the context of a futuristic society, called Terra, described
in my two recently published books: "Memoirs of the Future" (Cross Cultural
Publications, Notre Dame, 2001) and "Dawn of the New Man" (Xlibris,
Philadelphia, 2002) - cf. www.xlibris.com/dawnofthenewman.html
        Terranism is rooted in a totally horizontal organization of
society, which is achieved in Terra by means of a computer-assisted form of
"coordinated group decision making" - for which the acronym "cogdem" will
be used.
        In Terra any individual has the basic right to come forward with
innovative ideas that initiate cogdem protocols. Any such proposal is then
deliberated via a Coordinating Computer Complex, or CCC, according to
cogdem rules devised by Terran mathematical sociologists, meant to
eliminate redundancy and enhance decision-making efficiency. Once a
mini-max point in the debate is reached, beyond which further discussion
would become wasteful and counter-productive, the appropriate programs of
CCC automatically submit the final choice between the proposed alternatives
to a voting procedure involving all those concerned. The voting can be
carried out virtually instantaneously by each individual concerned due to
the advanced computer technology available to every Terran in his or her
home and workplace. Thus, by directly participating in all important
decisions that affect their own lives, Terrans have a personal stake in the
welfare of all their communities - from local neighborhoods to the global
level involving all of Terra.
        By advocating participatory democracy, social and economic
equality, as well as the maximum amount of freedom compatible with
civilized behavior, terranism radically departs from the two main social
ideologies of the twentieth century, namely capitalism and communism. But
how realistic is it to expect that some of its features will be realized in
the future?
        The emergence of the Internet and of e-mail is the first step
towards CCC, and has made the ideas about a Terran way of life based on
cogdem realistic at the technological level. Indeed, although the
Internet-email combination has not yet reached the level of sophistication
of CCC, it does possess some of its key features: 1) it has become widely
available in advanced countries; 2) as opposed to newspapers and TV, it
enables two-way communication; 3) also as opposed to newspapers and TV, it
is not controlled by the wealthy owners of communication empires. In other
words, present-day Internet is an intrinsically democratic medium, to which
anybody can have access for a modest fee, and which can be used by anybody
to disseminate information, rather than be simply a passive recipient of
news programs reflecting the establishment point of view.
        Hundreds of discussion groups, including H-Utopia, already exist
and operate via the Internet, exchanging information about various topics
of common interest. However, sociologically speaking, what is still lacking
as a first step towards cogdem is a deeper sense of involvement, which
would make some of these groups arrive at group decisions about matters of
common concern.
        What might prompt such a social initiative?
        The answer is: a Communications Revolution, in which the computer
plays the role that the steam engine did in the Industrial Revolution.
        In countries with a higher level of general education, one can hope
that due to an increased variety of political points of view presented on
the Internet many of the "common" people will achieve a higher level of
enlightened self-interest, and in so doing will finally glimpse the truth
behind the web of disinformation fed to them by mainstream media controlled
by those in power. They might then decide by means of rudimentary cogdem
procedures to take into their own hands matters which are of immediate
concern to them all - not necessarily out of altruism, but in order to
protect their own personal interests.
        This might happen at first at a local community level: in
municipalities, in townships, in various companies. In such small-scale
social and business institutions people could use ordinary e-mail (and
later on audio-visual e-mail, as it gets developed), to communicate with
one another about matters of common concern, to exchange opinions about
possible courses of action, and eventually to democratically pass amongst
themselves resolutions about courses of action to be adopted by their
entire discussion group. As this idea spreads and experts get involved,
various software programs might be developed to facilitate this cogdem
process and remove redundancy. Fifth generation computers, which display
"artificial intelligence" (as the CCC in Terra does), might further
streamline various cogdem protocols. Mathematical sociologists might make
significant contributions to these protocols, so that they would allow each
participant to express his or her point of view without that giving rise to
endless debates resulting in virtual filibusters.
        Of course, such an evolutionary process would not happen overnight,
but over decades. New educational methods, such as those discussed in
"Memoirs of the Future" and "Dawn of the New Man," might be gradually
introduced to facilitate and enhance the kind of social harmony, in a truly
democratic society, which consists of alert individuals who are not prone
to falling for misleading political catchwords and false pledges.
        The fundamental thesis behind these projections into the future is
that the existence of Internet in its present generally accessible form
makes possible the emergence of a more sophisticated and better informed
electorate, which might ultimately search for cogdem forms for the
political expression of their common will, and that if this does happen,
the basic motive will not be utopian altruism (which, at the present stage
of development of the human race, is an extremely rare commodity!), but
enlightened self-interest based on information distributed via the
        An interesting case of this nature was reported very recently (July
6, 2002) by the PBS program NOW, hosted by Bill Moyers. It dealt with the
unprincipled exploitation by US companies of the water rights of common
people in Bolivia, and emphasized the fact that this story was totally
ignored by all the US news media, but that it was nevertheless eventually
spread around the world by means of Internet. It thus opened the eyes of
many in Europe and elsewhere (and hopefully also in US, after the story was
finally picked up by PBS!) about corporate abuses of this nature, and how
some courageous but otherwise ordinary people coped with them.
        There are at present communication experts who have researched the
ways in which the mainstream media interpret political reality, and have
revealed in their writings how TV shows and broadcasts are subtly - and
sometimes not so subtly - doctored so as to serve special interests.
Internet, however, is still an exception - although by now there already
are those who advocate a "Control Web" (cf. the May-June issue of The
Futurist) which is capable of removing even that freedom of uncensored
interpersonal and public communication.
        According to the basic premises of terranism, each Terran has equal
access to CCC, and can disseminate his or her own version of any newsworthy
event, which then receives the same exposure as everybody else's. This is
taken to be a basic democratic right of each Terran. Of course, a very
sophisticated CCC distribution system is required to automatically and
impartially classify and distribute on the global level news gathered in
this manner.
        Since the Internet does not yet possess these features, the freedom
of expression it affords applies only within the context of relatively
small discussion groups - such as H-Utopia or WSN; whereas, on a larger
scale the scene is already dominated by Internet media with great
commercial power. Nevertheless, even the present freedom of the Internet as
a communication medium is certainly better than the situation a scant
decade ago, when these opportunities for public expressions of one's point
of view simply did not exist.
        Ahead of the next generation there obviously lies a struggle
between those who want to control and manipulate the Internet and its
successors for their own private interests - as has been the case in the
past with many other inventions that are the common heritage of mankind -
and those who want every human being to have equal access to such a
powerful medium of communication, and ultimately an advanced technological
tool for exercising one's rights in grass root forms of participatory

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