Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ The Network and Democracy

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Mar 01, 2007

Responding to Ulises Ali Mejias

As I read this, the argument is that online phenomena are necessarily means, not ends, and hence, as means, must be commodified, in order to serve as an exchange for ends. Thus commodified, the argument continues, the production and distribution of online phenomena must therefore both creates and satisfies its own demand, a capitalist mechanism that denies democratic means of emancipation and self-government, and hence, ultimately, the possibility of fulfillment.

I am in agreement that alternative forms of governance can, and must, inform online media, which is why I argue in favour of participatory forms of organization such as are found in open source and open content movements, the defining features of which are not the free distribution of the media, but rather, the freedom to create whatever media one wants. But i do not believe there is any particular hope for the spread of democracy in the online world until we see a corresponding spread of democracy in the offline world. The continued governance of corporations and other social organizations by authority and fiat, rather than participatory deliberation, ensures that a significant and malevolent force will continue to argue against public participation in online social media.

The existence of authoritarian organizations in the offline world is made possible by the continuing extortion that those with property conduct against those without property, specifically, that unless they perform labour for minimal wages and at the expense of their own freedom, they will be forced by deprivation to starve and live without shelter. The cardboard and tin residences lining the perimeters of the major cities of the world stand as a testament to the existence of that extortion, and its terrible execution.

A truly democratic society is one in which no person depends for his existence on the continued servitude to another. The promise of socialism was to end that servitude. In practice it merely replaced it with another form of servitude. The failure of socialism to stand against what were ultimately capitalist influences - the desire for power - does not undermine its promise. Ultimately, if anything online is to become meaningful - something that would be necessary in order for it to achieve any lasting significance - the needs of offline existence must be satisfied, as a birthright. Online society would then no longer be a means to those ends, but rather, an end in itself.

We need to end the possibility of this extortion, by empowering each person with the means to his or her own sustenance, and the means to provide for others who cannot provide for themselves. These means are effective claims against the property - and the power - of corporate authoritarianism, and the return of society to the people.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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