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Making Technology Democratic 238

Americans used to love both politics and technology. That's no longer true, and the latter is being blamed for citizen disconnection from the former. But is it the fault of technology that fewer Americans are voting all the time? It was impossible to pay much attention to the pre-installed political conventions which concluded last week, hard to imagine a more anti-democratic, less interactive gathering. Now that these awful hypefests are over, it's time to ask one of the most interesting questions in contemporary politics: Can technology be used to promote democracy?

A century and a half ago, the visiting French critic Alexis de Tocqueville described a politically exuberant United States whose citizens didn?t let booming technologies like the steam engine distract them from enthusiastic personal involvement in public affairs and community life.

"If an American were condemned to confine his activity to his own affairs, he would be robbed of one half of his existence; he would feel an immense void in the life which he is accustomed to lead, and his wretchedness would be unbearable," de Tocqueville observed.

That description sounds more than 150 years out of date. As was apparent last week, politics is increasingly wretched and unbearable -- an arcane, irrelevant exercise carried out by media, political, lobbying and special interest groups in Washington. Individual citizens grow more apathetic all the time when it comes to civics and government, while politicians and their parties compete furiously to see who can do less and spend less. The average citizen has almost nothing to do with this process, so understandably pays less and less attention to it all the time.

It's impossible to draw even a bare majority of eligible voters to participate in a presidential election any longer, or to blame them for ignoring it. What rational person could be expected to pay attention to these pre-installed nominees, programmed mediafests and infomercials that masquerade as democratic gatherings? Last week, a Democratic party official on CNN announced with a straight face that his party's L.A. convention was "interactive" because webcams were running live in the make-up rooms where speakers checked their pancake before delivering their exhortations. And there seemed to be as many Apple logos as American flags on display in L.A., as the party was desperate to appear forward looking and original. The iMacs didn't work.

Political conventions may make journalists feel important and allow exhausted politicians to appear democratic, but fewer citizens get fooled each time around. By now, only a fraction of the public is paying attention at all.

New technologies like the Net have always held great promise for re-connecting citizens to the political process, and re-democratizing democracy. Some of the early Net pioneers and cyber-gurus believed they were creating a political, not a commercial or technological revolution, when they designed the Net.

But those fantasies have not materialized. In fact, many social critics blame technology for this. The idea that technology isolates and alienates people is widely held to be the reason for America's growing political apathy and disconnection, even though there's little evidence or logic to support that argument. Richard Sclove, an author and director of the Public Interest Technology Policy Project, argues that new technologies promise convenience, productivity and economic growth, but deliver disturbing hidden costs: deepening inequality, social alienation, community dissolution and political disempowerment.

"Contemporary technologies contribute indirectly to diverse social ills," he writes in a collection of essays called Resisting the Virtual Life: The Culture and Politics of Information. In particular, he argues, they conspire in subtle ways to significantly hinder participatory decision-making.

That idea is widely held by critics and members of the so-called intelligentsia, even though it's rarely explained and dubiously supported.

It's hard to see why technology -- rather than elitist, unresponsive political parties, government agencies and media institutions -- deserves the blame for political alienation. Online, technology has given new energy to the idea of free speech, fostered individual participation in discussions, created new kinds of vigorous communities with shared interests, and encouraged the spread of diverse opinions.

Still, Sclove argues that alternative technological strategies and designs might help sustain democratic community, civic engagement, and social justice. He agrees that the point isn?t to reject technology outright (is that even an option any more?) but to become more discriminating in how we design and use it. He suggests, for example, "barrier-free" designs for the Internet in much the same way "barrier-free" equipment and public spaces have been created for the disabled. Politically, the goal would be universal access to information, discussion and voting. Instead of being heard mostly through opinion polls -- perhaps the primary force behind contemporary politics and political journalism -- the people could simply speak and vote for themselves, using computing and the Net.

Sclove writes that if women were more actively involved in technological design, for example, they might promote more shared neighborhood facilities such as day care and laundries, or closer location of homes, workplaces and commercial facilities. (For that matter, men might want the same thing). This smaller scale use of technology and politics could work. A block or neighborhood chat room might work well to sort out community issues, even if most threaded discussions and chat rooms online are a nightmare of hostility and confusion. If you're chatting with your neighbor about draining problems, you're more likely to be civil and coherent.

Still, good luck. If technology itself isn't out of control, the people who design it and decide how we use it are. Human gene maps get rushed to completion so that bio-tech corporations can mass-market perfect humans, while some of the country?s best scientific minds are holed up in think tanks creating gizmos that allow us to get sports scores in our cars.

Technology that supports democracy and civic engagement? Nobody wants to pay to develop that at the moment, nor is there much evidence that anybody wants to buy it. Politics has an increasingly bad (and richly-deserved) rep and most research and development people in the tech world don't want to go anywhere near it.

Sclove's solution is to "open, democratize, and partly decentralize pertinent government agencies, create avenues for worker and community involvement in corporate R&D and strategic planning, and generally strengthen societal capabilities to monitor and, as needed, guide technologies' cumulative political and social consequences."

It's a fine, even noble idea. America's technology elite is particularly contemptuous of people it perceives as "clueless," (aka technologically inept). This increasingly powerful elite seems to lose touch with the non-tech world more with each passing day.

So using technology to revitalize democracy is a powerful idea, especially when the elephants and the donkeys are demonstrating once more just how dramatically the political process has changed since de Tocqueville dropped by.

Technology could surely make voting easier and more appetizing to citizens who could vote from their home or work computers. It could indeed encourage grass-roots decision making. We could start small. The Net, for example, could be deployed for communal discussions of manageable local issues -- crime, vandalism, barking dogs or trash pick-up. Citizens could use technology to get information about local budgets or follow legislation. They would have an easier way to communicate with lawmakers and officials. Moderated discussions could precede electronic voting, which could bring majority rule more directly to bear on stalemated issues, from the local school budget to town highway repairs. On a grander scale, such discussions might eventually foster progress and models for resolving intractable national issues like the environment, school vouchers, abortion and gun control, many of which rarely come directly to voters for resolution but get eternally debated by special interests, lobbyists, and politicians.

Is any of this likely? Probably not for a few years. The people who have been meeting in Philadelphia and Los Angeles show no signs of wanting to share the process with citizens, however they pretend to. But interactivity has brought a sense of empowerment to all sorts of groups, from computer geeks to online shoppers and music lovers to people seeking legal and medical information. Sooner or later, institutions like politics will get hit just as hard as the music industry.

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Making Technology Democratic

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    We have always been a representative democracy, not a direct one. Individual citizens do not govern, they elect representatives who reflect their views, values, etc. to govern. This system relies on informed voters. Anyone who needs the convenience of online voting and won't take the trouble to vote in the conventional way probably has not bothered to study the issues and probably should not be voting anyway. Relatively low voter turnout has been around since before de Toqueville. In a free society, some people take the initiative to learn the issues and vote, and others do not. This is as it should be. We have enough democracy as it is. Stop complaining.
  • There is no way to determine competence short of a mind reading device, so your idea is not practical.

    Actually when talking about political competence there is a easy, inexpensive, and nearly sure-fire way of determining competence.

    Competent people vote.

    If a person can not take enough interest in their surroundings to spend 30 minutes casting their vote, then they are clearly incompetent, and the political system is better off without their participation. We don't need more people voting for candidates based on issues like the candidate's hairdo.

    It is especially critical that these people not vote in their local elections, where they might actually make a difference. Competent voters know that local politics make the biggest difference in their lives anyhow. A bad president has many checks and balances, a local Sheriff is another story altogether.

    That's why I am not interested in people being able to vote online. Voting should require some of your time, and it should require that the potential voter have enough foresight to a) know where the polls are, and b) know when the different election days are.

    Other than that I am all for making voting information publicly available in any shape or form that they candidates can dream up (and that doesn't include blocking traffic :). I am also for educating prospective voters so that they too can participate in the process. Once people begin voting, they almost always start actually paying attention to the issues as well, and they may even become a better person from the experience.

    And the improvement of our citizens is good for everyone.

  • Exactly! The only people that are really upset with voter turnout are the people in the mainstream media. After all, they would like to buy and sell votes the same way that they buy and sell Coca-Cola. They can't imagine anything more wonderful than a world where they can fill the prospective voter's mind up with influences and then turn him/her loose on a point and click voting world. That way the potential voter could participate in politics without having to leave their armchair even for a moment. Click here to purchase a Big Mac, Click here to vote for President.

    Quite frankly this idea scares the heck out of me. At least with the current system even the people who disagree with me have spent the time it takes to at least find out where the polls are.

  • I know plenty of people who are quite consistent about voting and are also completely partisan and completely uninformed. The most consistent voters are the True Believers who would vote for their party if they nominated a slime mold.

    It's easy to see people that don't agree with you as uninformed. However, your clueless friends undoubtedly vote for people that espouse their same "clueless" beliefs. They probably don't feel that their actions are useless, and they are almost certainly right. Almost without a doubt they have helped to elect several officials (especially at the local level), who have then carried out many of the same plans that they would have carried out themselves.

    Part of the tragedy of the American system of government is that every idiot has the same amount of votes as you do. Unless of course you don't vote. In which case you shouldn't be surprised that the politicians don't follow your particular credo.

  • Special interest groups get what they want out of the system because they take the money to buy politicians. It's really quite simple.

    If all politics took was money, then Microsoft wouldn't be in the pickle it is now.

    Politics is about votes. Pundits would like you to believe it is about money, because most Americans have a built in distrust of "monied interests," but the reality is that with today's fund-raising laws (specifically maximum contributions) the group that raises the most money almost certainly has the most supporters.

    What was it Bill Hicks said about Americian politics? "I think the puppet on the left represents my views. No, I think the puppet on the right it more to my liking." Meanwhile it's the same guy with his hand up both puppet's asses.

    If you don't believe that there is a difference between Al Gore and GW Bush, then I don't want to know who it is that you think should be president of the US. While both are clearly centrist, there are definite differences in their beliefs on foreign policy, taxes, the role of government in the lives of the people, the environment, etc.

    I would certainly agree that neither candidate is ideal, but almost certainly one of the candidates is closer to your idea of perfection than the other.

  • If you keep voting for the lesser of two evils, you'll always have two evils to choose from.

    And if you don't vote, then someone else is going to choose for you, and they will probably choose the greater of the two evils.

    One of the funniest sigs I have ever seen said:

    Democracy is three wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.

    Unfortunately, this is actually quite true. Most of us have just one small voice in a sea of differing opinions. We don't have the money and power that it takes to actually influence the president of the United States. However, there is still plenty that we can do. For example, if you have problems with the current political system then there are plenty of groups that advocate campaign refoms of one sort or another. Many of these groups are already quite large, and if you were to help one of them there is a good chance that some progress could be made. After all, campaign finance reform is turning into a relatively big issue.

    Of course, if you don't want to vote, then feel free to excercise that right. You are also free to move to a different country and apply for citizenship there. If you do find Shangrila, perhaps you would share directions with the rest of us here on /. so that we can share in your enlightenment. In the meantime, I prefer to work in the real world. I also prefer to change my local government first. It's easier, and it makes more of a difference to my particular community.

  • Actually my first paragraph was supposed to be sarcastic.

    I am still fairly young (under 30), but I am convinced that while the rising generation always thinks that they have the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything, they don't.

    Generally what they do have is a poor understanding of history, and an overinflated sense of their own importance.

    My point was that the reason that the Senior Citizens get what they want from the government is that their age bracket has finally gotten wise enough to realize that voting is the key to political power. Us Youngsters think that the key is to be seen on that most magical of devices, the Television. And so we riot and push over cop cars, and generally make a nuisance of ourselves so that NBC will capture our sorry little lives on film.

    And then we complain because the Senior Citizens (and the other special interest groups that actually vote) weren't paying attention to us, but instead simply voted for their own agendas.

    Have you ever wondered why no politician has ever really worried about the under 30 demographic? The answer is simple. People my age are too cool (or jaded, or stoned, or stupid) to vote.

  • Interesting how you seem to assume that not voting for either of the major candiates implies not voting at all. There are more than two entries on the ballot this time, and when there aren't there's always write-in. (Write-in can fun, it confused the bejezus out of the blue-haired ladies working the polls last time when I asked how I could write in my presidental vote.)

    I suppose that I inferred that you didn't vote because that is essentially what I am talking about. I have never said that you should vote for a Republicrat, I have simply pointed out that people that are competent politically vote. Actually I think that votes for third parties can have a tremendous influence on the system, and one should definitely cast their vote that way if their conscious dictates.

    Please pardon me for miscasting you. Sometimes its hard to tell who it is you are talking to when the interface is plain old ASCI text.

  • by Jason Earl ( 1894 ) on Tuesday August 22, 2000 @06:36AM (#837500) Homepage Journal

    Yes, us youngsters are going to save the world. We are going to unleash the power of the net and make the entire world a better place. And then we'll change the name of the U. S. of A. to Shangrila and everyone will get a free iMac.

    The problems with the current political landscape are more the fault of TV media than anything else. The Lincoln-Douglas debates went on for days and every American that could read eventually read a copy of them. Nowadays all the average American knows about the politics is what they hear in the 30 second soundbites between television commercials. Americans have become addicted to the "quick fix," and would rather burn cars and trash coffee shops than go through the painful effort of politics.

    The good news is that for the people that are actually intelligent enough to vote the current system works just fine. Special interest groups get what they want out of the system because they take the time to vote. It's quite simple really.

    As for the rest of the article, it's clearly ridiculous. Neighborhood chat rooms? Are you joking? Heck, I can walk right out my front door and actually talk to my neighbors (and frequently do). And politics is still an important topic amongst Americans. The last thing that the U.S. needs is one more barrier between the people in our communities. The Internet is great for creating artificial communities like /., but there is no reason to make artificial communities out of our actual communities.

    And as for your idea of voting from our PCs, quite frankly that is the last thing that I want. I am all for having political information be net-accessible, but I think that the actual voting should require that you take some time out of your day. After all, the problem isn't that we need more voters, the problem is that we need more informed voters. If voting were easier all we would do is increase the importance of things like the physical appearance of the candidate and how well he forms "sound bites." People would sit down at their PC and vote for the candidate that looked the "coolest."

    Eventually the Net generation will realize that they need to vote (and be active in politics) to be heard, and they will get out and vote. They will give up their scruffy clothes, and their organized acts of violence in the name of "protest" and they will instead simply walk down tho the local elementary school and cast their vote. They will especially pay attention to the local elections because they will have learned that that is where they have the most influence, and where they can make the biggest impact. Of course, by then they will be Senior Citizens, but that is the way of things.

  • My thought has been for a while that the federal government should now create a fourth division, The Peoples' House wherein citizens may vote directly on issues. Not so long ago this would have been impossible, but with the Internet and touch tone phone systems so widely used there isn't any reason why those without net access can't vote via an 800 number and a touch tone phone.

  • by Quark ( 6774 ) on Tuesday August 22, 2000 @05:45AM (#837508)
    It isn't technology that has ruined Democracy: it's Lobbyists, and special interest groups, all looking after their own little patch, instead of looking at the big picture. The perfect case in point is the MPAA's support for the DMCA - extremely damaging to the person on the street, but ideal for the movie studios who pay for the lobbying.

    Democracy used to be of the people, by the people, for the people. Nows its of the lobbyist, by the lobbyist, for the lobbyist.


  • ..but what about technology and democracy? can one be used to promote the other?
  • Thanks for this post..but do these chats, which are tightly controlled (I've been on a few, and the questions are tightly edited and screened to keep the yahoos off who run amok on threads here). Politicians really aren't pressed, and only an infinitesmal amount of people get through..Has anybody seen a bit chat interview that really works? To me, this can only work on a smaller level, as in a block, neighborhood or school environment? Yes?

  • I didn't set it up, but when I was at Hotwired, we set up a local political chat room..Sadly (and familiarly), it was disrupted by the tostosterone poisoned, for whom there is no cure or antidote. There are two chat rooms in my for a neighborhood seeking to revitalize itself, another for a school/parents group trying to resolve some racial problems..Both are working very well..I'm online enuf, but there are a number of groups who set up chats like this..Few chats work yet, in my experience, just as few coherent discussions online are possible because of the hostility..

  • If pols are overwhelmed by e-mail petitions, does the e-mail have any meaning..Isn't it highly manipulable?

  • My monicker on /. is "Gasbag" so nobody could disagree about the hot air, including me, but my sense is that this is a poster who read the intro but not the column..Lots of people much smarter than me believe technology could be used to make democracy already does, from TV info to the mechanized ballot box..So I'd say I have lots of hot air, but this is a lazy post that didn't real the column

  • If you read the column (or the intro) you'd see that I was disagreeing with the statement that technology causes disconnection with politics, not agreeing with it. I have no problem with disagreement, but you might at least skim the subject matter and I do feel entitled to be quoted more or less least within the ballpark..this is another lazy post..

  • Yes..this is completely accurate and wise, IMHO. Lobbyists and corporations are the number one political contributors to candidates and have completely corrupted the political system, as John McCain has been arguing for years. I think much more than technology this has disconnected people from politics. Corporations have lobbyists, but citizens no longer do.

  • This goes back to the question of autonomous technology..does technology control us or do we control it..I personally feel technology has the power to reconnect people to democracy, depending on how it's use. But I agree with the poster that people perceive technology and its many offshots and disconnecting them..I blame this on the takeover of politics by greedy and mostly corporate interest groups..Why should people pay attention to a system that doesn't pay attention to them? But I don't believe it's technology's fault..we can, as some posters have suggested, use technology any way we want.

  • not only a great idea, but really stands out as to the political promise of the Web, especially contrast to the jerks mouthing off on most public topics and forums...This seems to me a potentially brilliant response to the question of whether technology can advance democracy. Thanks for it.

  • ..I hope the moderators get the intelligence of this post...I think Tim is correct..Technology is a mirror, not a cause, IMHO. But the question is, how does one have civil conversations online? All you have to do is see what the tiny minority of /. window breakers can do to any discussion to wonder if there can ever be coherent public discussions without some form of control, even censorship. Personally I doubt it, but I'd welcome some ideas about it. How can there be civil discussion here?

  • .Personally, I think all parties are now too restricted to contain the explosion of ideas and opionion in evidence on the Net and elsewhere.>Why limit oneself to one way of looking at all issues, when there are countless opinions and points of view available. I really have come to dislike the ideaof parties and specific and confining ideologies, two or three or five.

  • I think this is just a description of thoughtful conservatism, not a response to the question about technology..Technology doesn't create a political environment, but the issue is whether it can affect the political environment..Size of government is important but seems a different issue to me.

  • Lots of /. people have e-mailed me to meet me, and we've had good times.Just e-mail me and we'll work out a time..anonymous threats somehow don't cause a lot of trembling in the knees, but you are probably worth meeting anyway. Anyway, just e-mail me and we'll work it out.

  • Has anyhone heard the term "social isolates"'s a whole category of social subset..But I see technology as ending alienation, not promoting it.
  • by JonKatz ( 7654 ) on Tuesday August 22, 2000 @05:48AM (#837524) Homepage

    But the issue is really technology and democracy. I'm neither a Luddite nor a technocrat happily, as even a cursory reading would show..My own notion here is that the 2002 campaign will change things..that this will be the first election in which people who grew up on the Net and the Web will run for office, a la Jesse Ventura..when that happens, people will have a leader to follow and an agenda that make sense. Any thoughts?
  • by JonKatz ( 7654 ) on Tuesday August 22, 2000 @11:17AM (#837525) Homepage

    ...I've ever seen on Slashdot are down below in this's really worth trolling past the shitheads to read this stuff..some of it is amazing,a real testament to what discussions on /. will one day be like (I hope and pray)
  • I think you are right, but I also think that as long as there are powerful people who want to have even more power (and there always have been), they will find ways of influencing the political process.

    It seems to me that spending limits are the wrong way to go, as is public financing. Interest groups will make their own ads, and find media prepared to show them, even if they're not allowed to make donations. Even if somehow made the system airtight, they'd buy candidates expensive gifts, pay for their children to go to college, etc. Its not even necessarily desirable to stop contributions anyway: after all, we want poor people to run, don't we ?

    A better solution might be to force all political organisations to reveal the ultimate source of their funding, and their full accounts, where a political organisation is any body campaigning for issues or candidates, or paying for anyone else to do so. The information could be collated and represented in any easy-to-follow form by an independent public body, as a public service, and violations persued similarly. With such a system in place, all but the most dodgy campaign contributers will find it easier to comply than to try to evade, and those few who do try to evade (extremists, the tobacco lobby, etc) could be persued more easily.

    We must also remember that bodies we support (the EFF, the ACLU, the OSF and FSF) are SIGs too. Do we want to stop them campainging ? To truly stop the corporate lobbiests we'd probably have to. The other thing is to try to buoy up these "positive" SIGs: Give them money. Volunteer your time.
  • Capitalism is a compromise between collectivism and individualism (and some other things). There's no simple stark choice between capitalism and some kind of collectivism. There are both more individualist systems (pure libertarianism and anarchocapitalism, including variants that would not permit limited liability corporations), and others that sit comfortably in the modern view of neither camp (Tucker or Spooner's socialist individualism, or certain Green and "luddite" ideas).
  • The idea that women would design things so that houses would be closer together to promote easier domestic mechanics ignores two things:

    1) That's a sexist idea. No further elaboration needed.

    2) Women drive cars too. Our cities are not built for people, either men or women. They are built for the easy movement of cars. If you doubt this, just try to get around a typical suburban environment without a vehicle. You will sweat your ass to death as you try to cross the vast concrete spaces between the places you're going to and from.

    Folks, it's our job as the smart people to spot and highlight the bullshit that various political forces want us to believe. And bullshit comes from a lot more places than just Microsoft.

  • Let's face the simple fact, those who voted for Ross in '92 (by and large) would have voted for Bush if he was not there. Given the margins, it's pretty safe to say that had Ross not run, Bush would have been elected.

    Perhaps, but that is irrelevant to the point I made. If Ross Perot hadn't run (and if Bush had won as a consiquence) we would not have a balanced budget (though our taxes might be lower). There might also be other minor differences (health-insurance being more tightly coupled to jobs, no family leave options, etc.) but on the whole things would be pretty much as they are, modula the budget surpluses we currently enjoy.

    It was Ross Perot who put the budget deficit on the public agenda and forced both branches of the Corporate Party (both of whome were doing their best to ignore the entire subject) to address the issue and do something about it. It was his spectacular performance in the 1992 election (an unprecidented 20% of the vote) that enabled him to do so. You do not have to win in order to affect change, get your message across, or even get your policies enacted. Often, a significant showing is enough.

    Those whos votes made up that 20% had more of an impact on both who was elected and the policies they had to address. As a result of 20% of those who voted in 1992, we have a balanced budget. My (wasted) vote for the Corporate Party in that election (and the one which followed) didn't have anything close to that kind of impact even though the candidate I voted for won!

    So, maybe someday what you say will be true, I look forward to it, but right now, I just don't believe that is the case.

    You missed the entire point of everything I wrote. Please reread what I wrote and think about it, then explain to me precisely why you feel a vote for a third party candidate is wasted. Perhaps then I can reword what I was trying to convey, such that you do not miss my point. (This is not a flame: I am seriously wondering how I might have conveyed the point more clearly).

    To summarize what I'm trying to say

    • A vote cast for a lessor of two evils does two negative things:
      • Reinforces policies to which you are opposed (if you weren't opposed to many of the candidate's views the candidate would not be a "lessor of two evils" by definition)
      • Weakens the opposition, which actually may represent your views more accuratly, thus actually aiding and abetting the suppression of your own opinions! A vote cast for the "lessor of two evils" is a vote cast against your own views, and is both a waste and counterproductive. It is quite possibly less destructive to not vote at all rather than vote for someone you dislike marginally less than someone else.

    • A vote cast in opposition to the masses has a more significant impact on both the elections and resulting policies. A Green Party or Libertarian candidate getting 8% of the vote instead of 3% arouses more notice than a Corporate Party candidate winning with 49% of the vote instead of 44%, and your vote makes up a much larger portion of that 8%. This focuses significant attention on the issues of that candidate , which brings me to my final point:
    • Your candidate does not need to win to have the views he or she espouses have an large impact on the policies enacted by the winner. A good showing often sufficies, with the loser frequently affecting public policy as much as the winner. As another example (in addition to the Ross Perot one mentioned before), many of Mayor Daley's most popular policies here in Chicago were taken directly from a Republican candidate (who got the endorsement of one of Chicago's two big papers) who didn't even win his party's nomination![1] Never underestimate the power of a good showing by a losing candidate, which can bring more attention to an issue than a winning candidate does, even resulting in their entire platform being coopted by the winner and later enacted into law.

    [1]His candidacy was scuttled for reasons involving alleged ongoing inter-party electorial collusion I won't go into here.
  • Balanced budget ? It was republican congress that forced this issue not Clinton.

    (Obviously you didn't read a word I wrote, since I did not make any claim whatsoever that Clinton forced the issue. I am inclined to treat this as a troll, but since others might be confused by your misinformation I suppose I'll respond.)

    It is no more true to say the Republican Congress forced the issue than it is to say Clinton forced the issue (and I said neither of those things). It was Ross Perot's campaign in 1992 which forced the issue onto both the Democrat and Republican arms of the Corporate Party. The former wanted to lower taxes (and spend more money on defense) the latter wanted to spend more money (on healthcare, student assistance, etc).

    It was not until Ross Perot emerged as a force to be reckoned with that both parties put balancing the budget on their agendas, and while Republicans and Democrats differed on the particulars, both wanted to balance the budget in the end (in the face of such overwhelming popular demand that they do so). It was that environment which ultimately forced recalcitrant Republicans and recalcitrant Democrats alike into forging a compromise and actually balancing the damn thing.
  • Two words: Electoral congress

    And a few more:

    Senat. House of Representatives. State Legislature. Gubornatorial Races. Mayorial Races. City council races. And the list goes on ...

    Besides, politicians and pollsters alike pay attention to the percentages of the losing presidential candidates (even those who get 0 electorial votes). Perot is an example where 20% of the vote (and 0 electorial votes) got his agenda adopted by both branches of the Corporate Party.
  • by FreeUser ( 11483 ) on Tuesday August 22, 2000 @06:12AM (#837533)
    Jon Katz is correct in identifying one of the reasons so many people feel disconnected. Both wings of the Corporate Party (Democrat and Republican) are indeed disconnected from the public, unresponsive to their desires, and all too eager to take priveleges, liberties, and even rights from them in the name of some popular, pet cause.

    People on both the left and the right sense something is very wrong, despite our unprecidented prosperity, but few can put their finger on exactly what it is. Even my mother, who is a (misguided) ardent supporter of the War on Drugs comments on the shrinking relevance of the constitution and the rights it was supposed to protect.

    With most issues already decided by the corporate and industrial movers and shakers to whom both branches of the Corporate Party are beholden to, there is little rhetoric to differentiate the candidates from one another (pro-choice vs. pro-life, perhaps, and possibly pro-healthcare reform vs. status quo) and even less practical difference, as neither branch of The Party is known for ever keeping its promises if such should disrupt the status quo.

    To reconnect, we need to break free of the myth that a vote for a third party is a wasted vote! This myth is the single most destructive and counterproductive mindset the voters have.

    If you dislike the Corporate Party's policies (Democrat or Republican), then voting for them (and thereby vindicating the very policies you oppose) is a wasted vote. Worse, it is a vote counter to your conscience and desires, which may help to explain why so many people chose not to vote at all, rather than vote for something or someone they abhore. Of course, if those were the only choices, I probably wouldn't bother to vote either, and who could blame any of us!

    But there are other choices, other parties, some with very good candidates for both president and congress. In particular, Ralph Nader of the Greens, and many of the Libertarian candidates for congress, are quite good options, and there are others.

    As Ross Perot demonstrated by putting the budget deficit back on the political agenda, despite the Corporate Party's respective branches unwillingness to even discuss the issue, a candidate or party doesn't have to win in order to affect change in public policy. We have a balanced budget today in no small part because Ross Perot got 20% of the vote in 1992 and shamed both branches of the Corporate Party into addressing the issue (and demonstrated in no uncertain terms that it was an issue many people cared about).

    If you cast your vote for candidates who represent your views on an issue, be they socialist, libertarian, consumer advocacy (Ralph Nader), or whatever, two things will result"

    one: your vote will have a much bigger impact than if it were cast for one of the Corporate Party candidates. Each percentage point a "third party" candidate wins has a disproprotionate affect, simply because it is so surprising to the powers that be. Frankly, it scares the hell out of them (why do you think Ross Perot, a demonstrably viable candidate, was frozen out of the debates in 1996?) and this fear is an effective tactic to get politicians to listen, and quite possible adopt, the very issues the losing candidate is trying to address.

    Even if the vote is split among several third party candidates, can you imagine the power the message of discontent would have if 15% or 20% of the voting public voted for none of the Corporate Party candidates?

    The only truly wasted votes are the ones which are either never cast, or cast for a candidate the voter does not like. The only weak vote is one cast for the status quo, be it Republican or Democrat.

    The most powerful vote is the one cast in opposition, not because the candidate necessarilly wins, but because it empowers the losing candidate to be heard, and (if enough people vote for them) makes them impossible to ignore. Your single vote, alone, is much more likely to tip Ralph Naders percentage up by one, than it is to tip the balance between Al Gore and Dubya Bush.

    In short, get out there, vote your conscience, and don't let the powers-that-be convince you that voting in opposition to them is a waste of your vote. It isn't. It is the most powerful thing you can do with it.

  • Man, that was pretty insightful :)

    It sort of goes along with something I said in a post a few days ago, about voting signal:noise.

    The signal, being the people who activly participate in civic politics and research voting records to determine which candidate to support, is being drowned out by the noise, being the people who absently pull a party lever without researching anything or based off of a single issue.

    When people activly participated, the party system worked well, now that people vote for a party like a reflex action without thinking, it doesn't.

  • Democracy doesn't mean jack if EVERYONE doesn't have access to the vote

    Agreed, however we are not a democracy. The popular vote has nothing to do with who is actually elected president.

    As for apathetic voters having less a voice? It would be nice if they did. If you are not following issues and actually paying attention to politics, then your uneducated vote is simply throwing noise into the mix.

    If there were some way to limit voting based on competance (IE, do you understand the candidates positions in issues) that would be ideal (in my mind) since it is not discriminating against anything except lazyless.

  • While your points are correct, the road to a day when a vote for a third party is not wasted will be long.

    Let's face the simple fact, those who voted for Ross in '92 (by and large) would have voted for Bush if he was not there. Given the margins, it's pretty safe to say that had Ross not run, Bush would have been elected.

    This year, I would say the same about Nadar. I don't know any Republicians who are planning to vote for him, but plently of my Democrat friends are split and because of this, may cause Bush to win (which I consider truely ironic)

    So, maybe someday what you say will be true, I look forward to it, but right now, I just don't believe that is the case.

  • What would keep politicians from simply wording legislation in a way that only a professional politician (lawyer, etc.) could understand?

    This happens now. They also play on widespread misconceptions to try to pass "hot issue" laws (ie, banning plastic guns, even though there is no such thing and the closest that there is, glock 17, is easily identifible by EVERY metal detector and X ray machine.)

  • The trouble with the argument that technology is to blame for a lack of interest in politics is that these are issues that don't really have a direct causal connection - it's not fair to say that because technology is improving people are paying less and less attention to politics.

    At the risk of invoking a pretty good episode [] of The West Wing [], "Post hoc, ergo propter hoc." Which is the pretentious Latinate way of saying that just because one thing happens after another, doesn't mean it happened as a result.

    Unfortunately, this is a lesson I don't think you're taking to heart. For example:

    [Technology] has also allowed us to concentrate on acquisitiveness at the cost of others, the roots of modern capitalism.

    This is as silly a piece of luddism as I've ever heard. While I can't claim to actually have been around at the time, I'd be willing to bet that our ancestors were more than willing to beat each other senseless for the sake of food, or a desirable mate, or even plain old obedience. Just about any garden-variety anthropologist will assure you that technology isn't a prerequisite to avarice.

    But, it cannot be argued that... technology has, in general, turned people away from the old USian small community ideal... Why would people care about politics in this situation? In fact, they're more likely to come to mistaken views about the evils of "Big Government" than the true evil - capitalism, and it's partner technology.

    I think what you're trying to say that this point can't be disputed, not that it can't be argued. In any case, this is a clasic example of "post hoc, ergo propter hoc" at work: because capatilist societies sprang into being after technological innovation, you jump to the conclusion that technology creates capitalism. In doing so, you neglect every other economic and political system that has ever been devised since, as you put it, we "made the transition from hunter-gatherers." If technology causes capitalism, it also causes feudalism, democracy, socialism, communism, facism, and God only knows what else. Technology doesn't just allow us to focus on exploiting others, it allows us to focus on anything other than satisfying the most basic of needs.

    Or, as my wife (a Phi Beta Kappa, cum laude - more Latin! - graduate in anthropology) put it, "Technology is what allows you to flush your poop away. So wipe it, bucko, and don't forget to put the lid down." Wisdom for the ages, I think.

  • I'm not so keen on this idea, since it gives people the opportunity to vote on legislation without giving them time to consider it. However, I would love to have a "People's House" organized something like this:

    Members are chosen at random from registered voters, serving staggered six-year terms, like Senators, but with the same salaries and perks as Representatives. By a two-thirds vote, they can veto (as a whole, or line-by-line) any piece of legislation that Congress has proposed, with the same time frame as the President's veto power.

    This would put a brake on legislation that is mere pork or log-rolling, without creating the "tyranny of the majority" risks involved in simple direct democracy.

  • As someone who interned on the Hill, politicians read both their email and letters (where politician==staff); mass mailings are largely ignored. Mass mailings in snail mail form are popular; institutionalized grass-roots-level special interest groups (e.g. labor, religious organizations) will often give their members forms to fill out and send to their representatives. The volume is recognized, but you're not likely to get a reply if you send in something like that.

    In fact, serious, well-constructed arguments are surprisingly likely to have an effect on the politician. Any letter written with any real level of seriousness, at least in the office I worked at, would get a reply. Any letter that couldn't properly be answered by a form letter (and they do have catalogs of them) will thus be read and answered by the person responsible for the policy. If you write a letter pertinent to the bills being currently debated, you're more likely to get a better answer, and you may even see your words or ideas reflected on the floor.

    One trick in your letter is to claim that you got a form letter the last time. Another thing to do is to help the interns sort your mail properly. For example, if you're writing to a senator on the Labor Committee about a health issue, say that in the subject/on the envelope. If your rep has a web page that names his staff, feel free to write to the attn of the particular staff member that should handle your question/concern.

    Of course, you can really only expect this of your representatives (and maybe committee chairs). If you have a disagreement with a particular rep that's not your own, write to your own rep to complain. That's why they're called "representatives".

    To get back to the point, unless the staff is entirely incompentent, and they rarely are (though you can certainly expect the staff of a junior rep in the minority party to be drastically smaller and less experienced than the staff of a senior senator with a chairship), mass emails and snail-mails don't overwhelm the individual messages.
  • "Can technology be used to promote democracy?" is the wrong question. Of course it can, and has, probably since before the printing press.

    The right question is how should technology be used to promote democracy? To which I'd answer "very carefully".

    Most Americans seem to have accepted the common fallacy that "we live in a democracy". We don't, (it's a democratic republic), and one of the Founding Fathers' concerns was that it not become a democracy -- since historically democracies have proved to have rather short lifetimes -- about how long it takes for the populace to realize they can vote themselves bread and circuses. Alas, America has been going down this road for a while -- arguably changing the constitution to provide for popular election of senators, rather than appointment of them by the States, was a major step down the slippery slope. (For simple proof of this, consider how the Clinton impeachment conviction vote would have turned out if Senators were appointed rather than having to worry about reelection.)

    Many commentators have decried the "government by poll" that in some cases has become a hallmark of modern government. If you think that's bad, consider the situation if the polls were instant (electronic) and binding.

    Joan Vinge had some interesting insights into the weakness of a society organized around electronic democracy in her story "The Outcasts of Heaven Belt". I'm all for electing a representative government, especially where there might be some good candidates to choose from (alas not always the case). But do we really want government by the lowest common denominator that a pure democracy gives? Consider why even employee-owned companies choose a CEO rather than deciding everything by vote.

    Certainly technology has a place for keeping the public informed of what their elected employees are up to. (And from this POV it's interesting to see what public files are now being closed by governments as access by the net, vs manually searching a paper file, becomes more prevalent.) But it shouldn't be too easy to vote -- heck, even the current trend to massive mail-in voting, let alone web-based voting, is disturbing.

    Politics, like good governance and good management, requires people skills (I know, geeks don't want to hear that). Robert Heinlein wrote an excellent book, "Take Back Your Government" (republished by Baen Books a few years ago) explaining how this all works at various levels from local to national. Anyone who wants to understand this, let alone participate in it, should RTFM.

  • I've said it before, and I will again, that cannot be allowed to happen.

    Well then, who will not *allow* it? Are you proposing a tyrant and dictator to ensure that people do not freely vote for Bush? Suddenly your post makes Nader all that more palatable in comparison. I will not vote for Bush, but I will defend to the death the right of any US citizen to vote for him.

    My conscience doesn't like voting for Gore, but it likes Bush being elected even less.

    If you vote for the lesser of two evils, you are still voting for an evil. I acceed that you have the right to vote for evil people, but I wish you would be honest and open about it, and proudly proclaim the fact that you will vote for someone whom you clearly consider evil.

    Your conscience might tolerate electing evil, mine will not.
  • Oh? I'm sure the people of Sweden (you know that northern european social democracy with the highest standard of living in the world) might argue that with you.

    Sweden is a capitalist nation. Look up capitalist in the dictionary if you don't believe me.

    It is morally bankrupt to let %30 percent of your nations children grow up in poverty when more socialist systems

    You need to define this "poverty" that you talk about. If you mean that %30 percent of the US children are destitute, you are flat wrong. If, on the other hand, you mean that %30 of US children are in the bottom third of families ranked by income, you might possibly be correct. So what? That Sweden has only a few digits in the lower third of incomes means that there is massive forced restristribution of earned income in Sweden.

    All so the rich can stay massively wealthy while holding out the carrot of prosperity to the ill educated masses of poor they produce.

    I would say that this is an indictment againt the US educational system, which is already a very socialized institution mandated for every US child. If the chilren of the US are ill educated, then I can only conclude that the US experiment in socialized education has failed, and it's time to give educational vouchers and tax credits a chance.
  • This is insightful, but it ignores one crucial thing. Economic systems are not the same as political systems (although some do pair better than others).

    I want liberty. Take the government out of the economy, and I will be happy with the result, be it either anarcho-capitalism or anarcho-socialism. Either is preferable to the government controlled corporatism of today. I am against tyranny, be it monarchal tyranny, or democratic tyranny.
  • Personally, I think anarchy is a really bad idea...

    So do I. Which is why I didn't advocate anarchy. I only advocated anarcho-economics (of either the capitalist, communist or other variety). I certainly want the government to do what it should rightly do, and this is to protect my life, liberty and property. But I want them out of economics. Keep the courts, the military, and the police. Keep the laws against force, violence and fraud.

    And for those that think radical libertarianism leads to corporate domination, I also advocate the repeal of the incorporation laws.
  • by Arandir ( 19206 ) on Tuesday August 22, 2000 @10:44AM (#837558) Homepage Journal
    Somewhen in the past fifty years freedom has become confused with democracy. Certainly it is one facilitator of freedom, giving the common man the franchise. But it is not sufficient for freedom, nor is it really necessary. Hitler was elected into office by a majority of adult voters. Need I say more?

    What is necessary for freedom is a limit on government. Where and how this limit is to be drawn pretty much defines political parties. A balance needs to be made between a government with too little power and one with too much.

    It doesn't much matter to me if technology aids democracy. History has shown that a government by the people can be every bit as corrupt as a government by an oligarch or monarch. What I want is technology that aids freedom. I want technology that makes me independent of the need for government, and technology that can protect me from abuse of government.
  • Special interest groups and lobbyists have been around forever. TV hasn't.

    Now, everybody watches a couple hours of TV every day, and you don't have a hope of getting elected unless you show up in their faces over and over. That takes big bucks.

    Politicians didn't need that much money to get elected in the past. Before people learned to sit back and let all the information they need (or at least, all that they get) effortlessly flow into their brains from the TV, they actually sought out important information like politicians' platforms. Now they just listen to whatever's on the ads and in the news, so if a politician wants a chance in hell, he needs to take millions of dollars from wherever he can get it, whatever he has to do to get it.

    Despite rumors to the contrary, I am not a turnip.
  • by JJ ( 29711 ) on Tuesday August 22, 2000 @05:49AM (#837562) Homepage Journal
    Have you ever gone to see/hear a political candidate speak? I mean really listen to the words, observe the gestures not just hear the soundbites? It is a very different experience from a ten second clip on the television or the net. I do look up what the different candidates say in many speeches on their websites. However, I don't cast my vote until I've actually heard both candidates speak twice, once in front of a positive audiance and once in front of a receptive but not overly positive crowd. The web is a great aid but it doesn't convey the full experience. How many readers can claim to really have observed Clinton so closely? If people had actually listened to Dole, he would have done much better.
  • Nice to see you replying in the forums Jon... but perhaps you'd best browse at +1... ;-)
  • by Paul Johnson ( 33553 ) on Tuesday August 22, 2000 @05:50AM (#837566) Homepage
    Take a look at Advogato []. It uses a "trust metric" to judge how much people are contributing to its community. This idea stems pretty directly from ESR's writing on how hacking free software is rewarded by kudos in the community: Advogato is an attempt to make this kudos visible.

    This in turn gets around the "tragedy of the commons" in large populations. In small communities one's reputation with the neigbours is important, but in large ones you don't often meet the same people twice, and hence have no incentive to be nice to those you do meet, or to let them see how civic you are.

    The Advogato metric has its problems, but its still pretty interesting.

    For that matter, Slashdot has its +1 bonus for those with over 20 karma. If you consistently post nice things, your postings get more attention. Same principle.

    Can we build a trust metric which can help us identify and reward civic-minded people? What would such a system look like? Any ideas?

    Incidentally, "Distraction" by Bruce Sterling includes a rough outline of just such a system.


  • It is much easier to be involved in the US political process now than it has been in my almost 40 years of life.

    The reason fewer people involved is because they DO NOT WANT TO BE INVOLVED!

    Why this is such a burr under the saddle of those that are involved is beyond me. Sounds suspiciously like self centered arrogance on the part of the political hobbyests and pro's alike.

    Just because *I* enjoy or view as important a particular activity does not make others lesser people because they are interested in different things.

    When you get down to it, once you get past your local elected officials, the DC based wonks do not have much of a day-to-day impact on the average person. Looks like most people have realized that, since they now have a chice to watch something else *besides* a convention (in contrast to the 1960's) during this season. They are not forced to watch the president on every channel whenever he has the whim to call a press confrence, etc.

    So, political hackers, just chill (including me), because other people have other things to do that THEY feel is more important. Anything less would be Stalinist, or at least Chilaian(sp?).

    Visit DC2600 []
  • by djx ( 42517 ) on Tuesday August 22, 2000 @05:52AM (#837570) Homepage
    I used to work at Houston City Hall and I took it upon myself to convince my boss (a councilmember) to use the net as a communication tool for her office. It wasn't exactly an easy task to accomplish, but once I got her to accept the simple fact that more of her constituents could participate in our forums and neighborhood meetings, she had no problems with me implementing the idea. I know that I was very fortunate to have worked for her because of her open mind towards technology, but, at the same time, other councilmembers who I thought weren't as open towards the idea were asking me how they could set something like that up in their offices.

    All it takes is one person to get the ball rolling, and others will follow. Anyone out there who is working in a governmental office needs to work on getting their offices to embrace the technology we have available to us because the net is a wonderful way for local government to become less of an ethereal object and more of a tangible leadership.

    Involvement is all that's missing from the political arena here in the US. Something like net-based forums would help get people involved in their local governments, and from there, it can only grow. One of the biggest problems facing all governments here is that people are too afraid to get lost in the bureaucracy. The office I worked in took some of that bureaucracy away by letting our constituents get in direct contact with our councilmember. If we start locally, I think it would logically follow up to the state and (eventually) national levels.

    Just my $0.02 on the issue.

  • Special interest groups get what they want out of the system because they take the time to vote. It's quite simple really.
    Special interest groups get what they want out of the system because they take the money to buy politicians. It's really quite simple.
    They will give up their scruffy clothes, and their organized acts of violence in the name of "protest" and they will instead simply walk down tho the local elementary school and cast their vote.
    I have not yet given up my scruffy clothes, but I have gone to the polls in every election since 1988. But on several occasions I have declined to vote in a certain race because there was no real choice. Sort of like this years' major party presidental candidates [].

    What was it Bill Hicks said about Americian politics? "I think the puppet on the left represents my views. No, I think the puppet on the right it more to my liking." Meanwhile it's the same guy with his hand up both puppet's asses.

    (See also Bill's version of the new president's first day in office [], as rendered by Garth Ennis.)

  • Don't like lobbyists and special interests corrupting your government? Well...see my sig...

    (as Nader says, "government of the Exxons,
    by the General Motors, for the Duponts")
  • Both candidates have a prescripted series of tripe that they know the public will eat up. It's just a ploy, and it's insulting. "I'm not FOR killing babies, like my opponent, I'm against it!" "RAHRAH!" "I'm AGAINST messing up the economy!" "RAHRAH!"
  • I'm sure a lot of people don't want to be involved because it is just degrading. If I was only given the choice of the self-serving Democratic and Republican candidates I'd be disgusted out of participating too, which is probably what they want in the first place.

    Us geeks are always talking about "choice". Well, if you want choice, help open the debates so that we can get Nader (and Buchanan) into the debates. Please don't be resigned to accept the two choices that are presented to you. America deserves much better than tweedle-dumb and tweedle-dumber.

  • The key thing with each of these issues is the shift from a republic to a democracy, and with each one them resulting in more apathy. Each step of the way, more power has been turned to the common people.

    Power turned to the common people is a BAD thing? Bullshit. It is really sad if you actually think two political machines alone constitute a healthy and "grassroots" government. That is rubbish. We are in this shape because barriers have been RAISED to public participation (how many people do you know are actually civil servants or have run for office)? Corporate money floods the political system ensuring that big corporations get a larger voice than citizens. Big money needs to be taken out of politics, campaigns publicly financed so that they are fair, and candidates beholden to the people.

    America deserves much more than the anologue of two flavors of vanilla in government. There should be a plurality of ideas and parties and people should be active in them. Not just mindless lever-pullers to be won by multi-million-dollar conventions of all show and no substance.
  • A vote for Nader is not a vote for Bush

    There are plenty of other articles about the ramifications (or rather, lack of the difference of ramifications between the two parties) of voting for Nader. One of which is about the invalidity of the scare tactics Democrats are using to make us afraid that Bush will turn back Roe v. Wade, while history shows not only have Republican administrations *not* challenged Roe v. Wade, but in fact it got stronger as opposed to the last Democratic administration.
  • Many people keep demanding this, and either don't recognize or ignore the fact that it would require massive censorship in order to have a chance of working. Not only do you have to prevent the parties themselves from raising funds illegally (and we all know how well that's been working), you also must prevent private entities from using their own money to express their views. In other words, you must censor political speech, which I believe is a worse cure than the disease.

    I don't see why you have to have censorship. PACs and corporations can spend all the money they want on commercials for their favorite candidates as long as "PAID FOR BY XXXXX" is plastered all over it. I'm a lot less likely to be positive about a commercial backed by the tobacco industry, for example. Taking non-citizens out of the loop will be a MAJOR step. Sure, wealthy people will still be able to donate a lot, but at least they won't be able to do it anonymously under the mask of a corporation.
  • <rant type="flaming">
    Jesus Christ! You missed the whole fucking point of his post you moron! He so clearly explained why voting for a third party is not a wasted vote RIGHT NOW , and then you brilliantly say "While your points are correct, the road to a day when a vote for a third party is not wasted will be long". WTF!!? He's right, but he's wrong? This is the kind of idiocy we don't need anymore.
  • So why don't you set up a neighbourhood chat room? Whay don't you go round and talk to your neighbours, see which ones have got computers, organize cheap 2nd hand ones for the ones that don't.

    If there's one thing that's been learnt from the Open-Source "revolution" is that it's no good just talking about it, if you've got an idea and it's feasible to do it yourself, then what are you waiting for?

    (Sorry to post twice, replied to the wrong thing)
  • My honey and I had this discussion a while back, and for the sake of argument he took the 'wasted vote' approach. You explained it more eloquently than I could. (Lux, are ya reading this? ;-)

    As for technology being the cause of political disenchantment, that's bull. I would not be suprised if a disproportionate amount of the 'techno elite' are apathetic about politics when compared with the general public, but I really think that has more to do with the fact that most geeks are members of Gen X...and we know how jaded Gen Xers are... [including myself]

    Whether tech can be the catalyst for renewed political involvement, I don't know. I think it has the potential, if Congress and the Mega Corps don't legislate it to hell and back first.

    The Divine Creatrix in a Mortal Shell that stays Crunchy in Milk
  • I think exactly what upsets so many heavily involved people is that politics is becoming just another hobby the United States. Politics was, we are told, at one point more than a hobby. In the days of the Civil Rights movement, or when the country was at war (you know, the old type of war where it took more than a week to finish it), you could not look at politics as being just one more interest, on par with model building or golf. I think that people are angry because the relative prosperity in which we live has made people complacent. At the risk of sounding like that Comedy Central ad, people who have been on the receiving end of a government that abuses its citizens and allows no political voice to them have a hard time understanding how you could have the right to influence your government, and yet choose not to participate, or to make choices based on who has the better head shot or the catchier website name. When votes are held in 3rd world countries that haven't had the chance before, turnouts are usually huge. Maybe it is just because the experience is novel, but the conventional view is that democracy is a rare privalege to most people, and that the non-voting US public looks like spoiled children by comparison. I think there is some validity to that complaint; the statistics clearly indicate that most Americans take democracy for granted, trusting that others won't vote in someone who might do them wrong.

    /*begin joke*/Maybe we ought to suspend voting for a few years, and see how people react to having no voice in government by force, instead of by choice. Maybe contraryness can give a boost to the democratic process. . . /*end joke*/

    "Sweet creeping zombie Jesus!"

  • that this will be the first election in which people who grew up on the Net and the Web will run for office

    'grew up on' implies that the 'net was already in existance during the formative years of the persons life, say age 3 and up. Since the 'net as a public entity has been around since about 1988 (Public entity remember, I know it was around before then, but there wasn't even much of a public BBS system before the mid 80s) the people who 'gre up on' the net are just now turning 16-20. None of them are eligible to run for anything higher than class president. So I think instead of 2002 you might want to aim at 2016 for the Age of the Net to be ushered in. The People who grew up on the net are now VOTEING (well, eligible to), but they aren't running for anything.

  • 'grew up on' implies that the 'net was already in existence during the formative years of the persons life, say age 3 and up.

    This week, I'm going to learn all about how technology can enable politics; and, while I'm at it, I'll also potty train! Words must be interpreted within
    the context with which they were written. The exposure of the average person into politics does not normally begin until mid teens.

    Quiz time everybody. At 12 years old, which had more importance to you? Whether Jimmy stole Mary's notebook with the heart stickers all over it?
    Or whether the latest highway subsidy bill got out of committee in the House?

    What in the world are you talking about? We're talking about whether someone grew up immersed in technology to the point where it affects their outlook on life, not at what point people begin to take an interest in politics. The people who truly grew up with the net don't give a rats ass about politics right now (which might be what you were implying) but they will in a few more years.
    The people who created the net are the ones who are now eligible to run for office, but aren't doing anything of the sort because they spent their lives creating technology, not becoming career politicians. So I fail to see how the generation that grew up with the net is doing jack shit about politics right now. The 35+ age group that is running for office are still for the majority technophobes of one kind or another, or at best people who are not comfortable with the pace of technology. As I stated before those people won't be running for office for another 16 to 20 years. And even then, it will be the people who grew up with technology but don't truly understand who are running for office. Because career politicians understand politics, it's their job, not computers.

  • Oh, to have some moderator points right now...This is a great post. This discussion is a very good example of how words can *sound* convincing (or as convincing as Katzy can be) but when you actually LOOK at what is being said, it makes the problem even worse. Bravo!
  • Things are going to change, but a change in politics is going to take a change in our society, and things like that don't happen in weeks or months, but decades. People like to think of revolutions as distinct, sudden change, but for true lasting change, it must be more like an evolution, where things change slowly over a long period of time, and except in retrospect, the individual doesn't notice the change in day to day life. There may be a few specific dates that stand out in political history (like women's sufferage) But that did not "just happen" It was the result of years and years of work, first starting out small, and then getting bigger and bigger, until the pressure to change is overwhelming, and then we get the discrete event, in this case, women getting the right to vote.

    I'm all for slow movement in politics- when something works on such a vast scale, quick changes can go both ways, good and bad. If we want a lasting change, we need to be patient. The internet is far from being a mature technology. We must be patient so it can find its lasting place in our society.
  • "To reconnect, we need to break free of the myth that a vote for a third party is a wasted vote! This myth is the single most destructive and counterproductive mindset the voters have. "

    Picture this: Gore and Bush are neck and neck. chances are there are only about 10-20% of the population that would consider voting for Nader (this isn't that far off considering the numbers out right now). So lets assume 40 Bush, 40 Gore, 20 Nader. The large majority of people that would vote for Nader are all Democrats that would otherwise vote for Gore. If those Democrats go en masse and vote for Nader, without a large unregistered population voting or voters that haven't participated recently in elections voting, then Bush will have won the election 40, 20, 20. If you split the otherwise solidified Democratic base, then you'll end up with a President that doesn't support your views (Bush). However, if you join forces (Nader pulling himself out of the race and moving his voters towards the Democratic platform while campaigning FOR Gore). Until direct democracy becomes feasible and desirable, the current system will have to deal. And enough of JKatz and his doomsday sayings. The political system is not all that bad.
  • sorry, looking back, my numbers don't make sense.

    the logic behind it is, when Nader gains followers, he's taking away from a split base of people that might otherwise vote for Gore and succeed in winning the election away from Bush. Nader alone does not have a shot in hell at winning the general election. Gore has about a 50-50 in winning. If Nader gets Gore to make promises to the populace in exchange for dropping out and giving his vocal support, we might end up with a half-decent resolution with the outcome being that Bush doesn't get elected.
  • If America ever becomes a democracy, I'm leaving the country. The founding fathers had no idea how helpful the idea of a republic is - they were concerned with the population (well, white, affluent, landowning, male population) being too stupid to handle voting, but it was never more problematic than today. The media utterly controls our every thought and opinion. Due to control of the release of facts, even many spirited dicussions on Slashdot are a bunch of us who heard the same media reports discussing implications - but in the vast majority of cases we are all basing things on what we hear N+1-hand. It is exceedingly rare in the "real world" (whatever that is) when the public can personally experience a situation. If the media goes on a vandetta against a political candidate, bill, law, issue, country, etc., the public will follow suit. Imagine what could happen if the public could vote to impeach a president? Even less actual work than ever would get done, with officials continuously pandering to public opinion. The shifting winds of public opinion could instantaneously result in knee-jerk reactions by a public whipped into a frenzy. Wag the dog... Republics may be lead by representatives that every 2/4/6 years (in the US) have to pander to public opinion, but imagine if they had to constantly? How would an American public make decisions on public works, national defense, international commerce, space and science, or any other detailed issue? Imagine the MP3/napster debate - one really good speech by either side and the public confirms or elimninates copyright law. Are politicians in the US republic great? No, they are cheating, lying, lazy, marginally felonious lawyers who seek only their own self-interest. But I'll take that any day over a public who receives most of their information from People magazine. Bottom line - I strongly question a goal of promoting more democracy.
  • IMHO, Politicians talk about issues just to play the role of Presidential Canidate. People rarely vote for people based on the issues that they bring up. For example, the tallest Presidential canidate has won every election since the advent of TV
    This partially sums up why I refuse to vote (that and moral objections to putting individuals into positions of power). Its all a game of "who can come off sounding the smartest". Just smile, look pretty, and don't say anything that pisses too many people off. My favorite Gore quote was when he was asked by a little kid "Whats your favorite car?" His response? "OH I don't know, something made by the United Union of Auto Workers". Yea. and American car of course...any one really yea. If he said the Buick LeSaber, that would offend everyone working at Ford. Lets just go with the safe answer. They never say anything of substance. Just lots of catchy phrases and sweeping proclaimations about getting tough on crime and protecting the children. Democrat, republican. They are the only real choices, noone else stands a chance (they grow larger, they stand more of a chance every year, but real chance...and will they be any different when they come to power?...its easy to talk of ideals when your the little guy). Gore or Bush? Are they different enough that you can even call that a choice? All I am left with is hoping that, for my own entertainment, Bush will win and will have the decency to do what Reagan was too inconsiderate not to do - die in office like Lincoln FDR and all the others in the "Zero Year Club". I figure that entertainment value is the only value left in Government at all. --Steve
  • Over the post-civil war years, Americans have been on an unended quest to trash the republican system that was brilliantly crafted.

    Several steps have been taken that have resulted in complete alienation.

    1. Obsession with Judicial review and the Supreme Court's power and responsibility to interpret the Constitution.

    2. Direct Election of Senators

    3. Universal Sufferage (I would argue in SUPPORT of "negro sufferage" (voting rights regardless of race) and women sufferage, Universal Sufferage is a DIFFERENT concept) - no qualifications to vote

    4. Constitutionally limiting the President to two terms

    5. Lowering the voting age to 18

    6. Post Watergate fundraising limits

    7. Presidential primary system

    The key thing with each of these issues is the shift from a republic to a democracy, and with each one them resulting in more apathy. Each step of the way, more power has been turned to the common people.

    This was a mistake. The two party system worked when the parties were actual parties. They actively recruited people, each town was a two newspaper town (Philadelphia Democrat and Philadelphia Whig, for example), and you were really involved with your party. You'd attend meetings for the party, pay dues, etc. You were involved, and you would try to sign up others to your cause. This was an engaging process. You would send representatives to fight over your presidential candidate, etc.

    With the removal of the parties as real organizations, it's a joke. Their are die-hard partisans, but it doesn't make any sense. I am a registered Republican because my state is a closed primary state, but if I didn't care about the primaries (which only the actual partisans should care about), there would be no point in registering.

    Besides, why should someone who isn't a strong Republican help pick their nominee. Essentially, we've neutralized politics.

    Instead of allowing the politically active to get involved and recruit their neighbor, we've trashed grassroots activism and replaced it with television.

    Direct Election of senators DESTROYED state governments, because it let Washington go amuck. The expansion of the federal government at the expense of the states would be less of a problem if the state governments were directly represented.

    Fundraising limits (not indexed to inflation, doh!) has resulted in a silly mess of different sides raising money through fake organizations. People that would like to be involved are limited in their involvement. This has saved the parties (soft money is necessary, therefore the national parties remain relavent), but hampered the nation.

    You can't run without money, and you can't get money without soft money through the party... good luck running as an independant.

    We wanted to equalize everyone, and we did. As a result, the politically active class shrunk (no incentive to be involved anymore), and stopped recruiting others.

  • One of the biggest turn-offs to politics, the way I see it, is the fact that, at least in the Clinton Administration, people we didn't elect were running things. Case in point: as Smitty825 pointed out, Clinton put his wife in charge of putting together a new health care system. I'd love to see the statistics showing how many voters chose Hillary Clinton to be in the White House. I'm curious how many knew she was even running!

    Appointments to offices by the President must be approved by Congress. This has to hold true in all cases.

  • Individual citizens do not govern, they elect representatives who reflect their views, values, etc. to govern.

    Representatives' voting records do not necessarily reflect the views of their constituents. They can say one thing (e.g. pro-life) to get elected and another (pro-baby-murder) once in office.

    There is always this danger.
    ( \
    XGNOME vs. KDE: the game! []
  • by Raunchola ( 129755 ) on Tuesday August 22, 2000 @06:43AM (#837637)
    It's one thing to say, "Hey, look at us, we have webcams!" It's another to say, "Hey, look at us, we're using the technology to supplement our concerns over the issues people care about." It really doesn't matter how much of a technocrat a candidate is, that's not why someone gets voted into office. It's the issues that matter the most. Using the technology in your favor isn't as important, but you had better believe that it can help.

    Remember Jesse Ventura? His appeal to everyone out there was that he a take-shit-from-nobody kind of guy. He spoke his mind on the issues, and made no apologies for it. Some people didn't like what he had to say, but they have him credit for having the balls to say what he said. That's the main reason why he was so successful in Minnesota. What also made him successful was his JesseNet []. It's really nothing more than a glorified mailing list, but it was certainly able to band together Ventura supporters to go out and promote the guy.

    It doesn't matter if you're a technocrat or not, being one doesn't guarantee victory. We don't elect people because their website has the most webcams or java applets. We elect people because of their concern (or lack thereof) of the issues we care about most. I doubt Ventura is a big technocrat, yet he still won over two established candidates. And it was because of the issues. As soon as candidates start listening to and focusing on issues people care about most, then maybe more people will get involved with the political process.

    And on an unrelated note, I'm surprised Al Gore isn't embracing the technology in his campaign. C'mon, he did invent the Internet, right?

  • In theory, we could eliminate the politicians. Individuals would be able to submit bills, on-line, vote on it on-line.

    There will be some need for people to take a submitted bill and reform it into a properly worded, considered bill that would perform the intended action of the bill. Some laws have had unintended side-effects, but if the unwashed write them, it would be more of that.

    The lack of elected politicians would reduce crime :).

    But not having elected politicians would give paper pushers much more power.

  • The reason why politicians don't submit it is that they get too much money from people who oppose gun control.

    Still, there is a judicial branch of government. And bills would have to be constitutional.

    That is why we would still have some form of gatekeeper. But this would be on form and consitutionality.

  • Our rights are being voted away by politicians for votes or payoffs!

    When congress passes laws, there has to be some appearance of of constitutionality. That is why we have the courts as a check of the legislative branch.

    We will never eliminate this, but maybe reduce it.

    won't eliminate this type f Did you see the Distinguished Gentlemen? It's a documentary with Eddy Murphy.

  • I don't live in the US, but I live in a capitalist country and am perfectly happy with the way things are going. I don't see why you say that we are less and less happy about the situation. Are you suggesting that people were happier during another timeline ? (renaissance? middle age?..) Personnaly I don't know if we are happier, but we certainly are not more miserable than they used to be.

    About the reason why people arnt interested in politics.. IMHO, it maybe because it now has more to do with lobbyists & money than to the average citizen, or maybe because people are happy the way things are & don't feel the need to get involved?


  • >> We wanted to equalize everyone, and we did. As a result, the politically active class shrunk (no incentive to be involved anymore), and stopped recruiting others.

    Are you sure this is the case? I'm not convinced, until I see some figures. The percentage of people of voting age actually voting may have gone down since the 1920's or 1930's, but I'm guessing its still a lot higher than it was in 1800. Each group given the right to vote(blacks, women, etc.) has dramatically increased the percentage of adults who vote, and you know it.

    The reason we don't vote is because we feel it won't make a difference. I have a friend in Utah who already knows he is going to throw away his vote because that state is giving its electoral votes to Bush. It really doesn't matter that he would prefer Gore or Nader, his vote is going to get thrown away.

    If we had a real democracy, where a vote really was a vote, I think we would see a much higher turnout and more participation.

    As a side note, I suggest you go back and reexamine your patrician viewpoints. You are not better than anyone else because you were born into a good family and have money. We don't need a class of superiors making decisions for us. As far as I'm concerned, there is very little difference between people that can't be explained by environment. Regardless of your background or wealth or your families social status you should have the opportunity to succeed in this country. Abraham Lincoln had that opportunity in his day - he was among the poorest of the poor growing up. Today he probably would not have the same chance -you need lots of money and social status to become President. The only way we can reclaim that opportunity for everyone is to make each person's vote count. And that is a step toward real democracy and away from republican government.

  • It seems you switch between luddite and technocrat as dictated by your topic-du-jour.

    Could it be that he doesn't fit neatly into your little "luddite" and "technocrat" boxes?


  • Advogato has become popular. Very popular. The chance of a new user getting others to read their posts is fairly slim at this point, unless you want to spend most of your time creating posts in a hope of garnering readers through sheer volume. Even then, what is the motivation for the already-accredited members to read your post? It may be a meritocracy, but it doesn't solve the motivation problem.

    Advoagto favors early members - look at the discussions and you'll see the same people doing all the posting. The early folks could handle reading each other's posts and crediting accordingly. Now that there are so many users, what is the motivation for accredited users to read new posts and accredit all the new users?

    Advogato simply makes the process of being heard and participating altogether too exhausting. Slashdot may have its weenies (me among them), but most of the good posters here wouldn't have the patience to jump through the advogato hoops.

  • by Ars-Fartsica ( 166957 ) on Tuesday August 22, 2000 @05:41AM (#837654)
    It seems you switch between luddite and technocrat as dictated by your topic-du-jour.

    If I had to nail down your perspective neatly, I'd simply have to conclude that you're simply a habitual complainer.

  • An ancient man once said (translated for effect): Argue for your limitations and they shall be thine.

    As we advance as a society, finding new memes of thought and expression, our democracy grows ever more diverse. Granted, some memes have a more readily available political voice (read: Money) and with that we move away from democracy and back toward the oligarchy/tyranny we broke away from when the founders of this nation promised their lives and their sacred honor to a cause they believed in.

    It seems to me that we, as a society at large, must eschew the monetary contributions of large party politics for a smaller more diverse political following. For the greater part of the history of the United States, we've had two or three major political parties. Now some say that is what has allowed us to "get things done" but has it allowed us to do things at all? Maybe.

    My biggest concern in the modern political realm is that we, as a nation, will leave our political power stagnant in the rushing waters of international technological change. I think that if anything, current politics is completely out of touch with the plausible in terms of technology. Just look at the metaphor: Information Superhighway. How many people would like to see the person who created that stupid fscking metaphor shot? I would. I'm tired of the causification of American politics, whether it be Napster or DeCSS or what have you. We cannot use these as political vehicles if we ever expect to gain respect from the political community.

    Okay, so you're getting out your flame thrower, just lay off the trigger a second, I have a point. We sound like whiners when we press our agenda on those points, but still we cry "Information wants to be free". We need not to distance ourselves from politics, but perhaps to create our own party, as a technically inclined society. We need a party that presses our agenda, since we definitely aren't represented by either major party now.

    But what would our party be? Well, we wouldn't take stands on the social issues of welfare/affirmative action, or on abortion, those issues are important, but not crucial to our platform. Instead lets discuss freedom of speech and information on the web. The other parties are based on some very specific social programs and issues, but have no technology position to speak of.

    As a nation we need this sort of major reform. That much is obvious.

  • Good thing:
    The ability to be able to vote from your computer or even shortly from your handheld device or cell phone can only help to increase voter turn out or *turn on*.
    Bad thing:
    Information->infomercial->commercialization->corpo rozation of everything including bandwidth use will result in more avenues of revenue for corporations and the inclination to watch your every move which will lead to big brother syndrom.
    Conclusion The good thing will cancel out the bad thing since it allows the emergence and success of third parties like reform party (yuk) or the green party (woohoo) that will curtail corporate abuse.
    Side note: Personaly I can not live without internet access or information access any longer. If it were to go away now, I will wither and die.
    But then again that's what every drug addict thinks before letting go of the substance.
  • One portion of your argument resonates with me. I believe that it should be rather difficult to vote. When it is, only those who actually care about the outcome will bother, and those will tend to be more informed than others. I'm not going to lose any sleep that the ill-informed and lazy aren't turning out. The Motor Voter bill that was passed goes in exactly the wrong direction, IMO, plus its provisions that restrict the ability of the states to purge the rolls leads to increased fraud.
  • Maybe its just because I have an active interest in politics, but I certainly don't have the same pessimistic outlook as you. I vote in every election, and technology in general and the net in particular has been a boon. I can now easily research the qualifications, positions, funding sources, and prior voting records for every candidate. I listen to a lot of politically-oriented talk radio and the hosts will post links to critical information that they use in their broadcasts. The local talk show that I listen to regularly runs a chat room in parallel, with the host using our comments to steer the discussion or bring up new topics. Plus it also uses email and website postings to whip up community interest to fight the bureaucrats and sundry other malefactors of government and business.

    If anything, I see the net as making democracy less centralized and subject to manipulation by 'The Corporate Party'. Your expressed concerns appear to me to be more appropriate to the situation immediately before the dawn of the net. I think what you're seeing now is the inertia of that old world still stumbling along, a world that is about to realize that the rules have changed.
  • Amazing. Just as I hit 'submit' I was listening to a 'man on the street' interview with some 20-year-old women. The host asked them who was running for President. When one of them replied with a tentative, "Bush?", he managed to talk her into believing that Bush wasn't one of the candidates this year. When asked whether America is a democracy or republic, she replied "democracy." Yeah, I really want that sort of person voting.
  • The problem with Nader is that he won't win and he knows it.

    Nader has came right out and said, on several occations, that the reason he is running is to help the Green Party get major party status (which entitles them to government assistance).

    This means a vote for Nader is not really a vote for what Ralph Nader says he stands for, but a vote for the Green Party platform, because it is the party, not the man, who stands to rise in stature from a good Nader performance. What Nader would do if elected should not be a factor in your choice, because he won't be.

    This is a dramatic contrast from Bush and Gore, who each has a good chance of winning, and who belong to already strong parties. Their party platforms are not at all as important as what they would do in office.

    In otherwords, vote Green, Reform, Independence, or Libertarian if you support the goals of the party, vote Bush or Gore if you support the man. All other decisions are less-well-informed.

  • "anarcho-socialism" is an oxymorn: Socialism is total government control of the economy. Anarchy is the total lack of a controlling government.

    I think you meant to say "anarcho-communism", which is a silly pipe-dream, but at least it's not self-contradictory.

    Personally, I think anarchy is a really bad idea, for the simple reason that there is no force in place to prevent a subsequent rise of Feudalism. Any time you have anarchy, winners will emerge and start grabbing for power.

    I prefer the libertarian philosophy of a government which is limited by constitutional mandates to protect the rights of the individual.

  • by Golias ( 176380 ) on Tuesday August 22, 2000 @06:16AM (#837678)
    ...turned people away from the old USian small community ideal...

    There is no such thing as a "USian". People who live in the United States of America are called "Americans".

    Other people living on the same continent (like Canadians and Mexians) can be referred to as "North Americans", but not "Americans", because the contintent they live on is "North America", not "America". Many Canadians and Mexicans are proud of being Canadians and Mexicans and would prefer you don't think of them as "Americans".

    For the entire history of our nation, beginning when we opened a can of whoop-ass on King George's redcoats, we have called ourselves "Americans". Your "politically-correct" revisionism is not going to change that.

    Now stop being so pretensious.

    Unfortunately in capitalism people are seen less as individuals with their own special contributions to make,

    Seen by whom? Certainly not by corporations. Corporations are artificial economic constructs. They don't "see" anything. If there is a failure of perception it is yours, in that capitalism has proven to be more favorable to the individual than any collectivist system, for the obvious reason that capitalism is not collectivist.

    than as parts of an assembly line, valued for little more than what they produce.

    Unlike socialism, where people are valued for... what they produce. Or communism, where people are valued for... what they produce.

  • Lots of people much smarter than me believe technology could be used to make democracy work[...]

    No amount of technology can make up for an ill-informed and apathetic populace. The public school system in the United States, coupled with the socialization of children as consumers first, creates an atmosphere in which it is not in the short-term best interests of the powers that be to have an informed, motivated populace of voters.

    Until we can stem the tide of apathy and get people to consider what things are really all about, then technology cannot save us. Look at what giving the vote to 18 year olds did: nothing. Voter turnout has been declining for years, even though we have more people who are eligible to vote than ever. We made voting so easy that few people want to have anything to do with it.

    Technology will not save us, Jon. The Founding Fathers gave us a federal republic instead of a democracy for a reason.

  • One of the problems with politics today (both USA and world) is that the number of issues has increased by several orders of magnitude. In the kingdoms of Europe, the issues were pretty much directed at survival and growth. In the Colonies, the issues centered around British remote control, survival, and management of the growth potential that the New World offered.

    Now, today, when you look at the Thomas Web site you see thousands of bills that go way beyond the limits of survival and growth [management]. Morality in technology. Ecology. The War on Some Drugs. The War on Some People (think DCMA, anti-discrimination, hate speech). The Welfare of the Corporations. The Business of Government.

    And people wonder why the population of the United States is turned off to politics? When politics is focused again on survival and management of growth, then it will become small enough to be grasped by normal people.

    We don't need 1/5th of the people and 1/6th of the Gross Domestic Product dedicated to having one person crack the whip over another.

    Even religions know better than to expand core teaching beyond a single easily-carried book.

  • Nothing ruined democracy in the United States.
    There ISN'T a democracy in the United States, or at least there isn't supposed to be.

    This country is a republic. What does that mean? It means that the only thing citizens are supposed to vote for is their leaders, not laws.

    Somewhere I cannot recall now I heard this quote: "A true democracy will never work, for once the people learn they can vote themselves money, they will vote themselves out of a government." There has never been a more true statement! The only way democrats get into office at all is by buying votes from people by deed, liberal licencing (by this I mean making things legal which should not be), or by government programs such as healthcare or welfare.

    Please do not think that I mean democrats are the only tyrants I see. I see the money behind the republican candidates as well as anyone. But the money behind the republicans is corporate (or private) money used for promotion of the candadates, and so does not fall into this discussion. What does make me angry is the "Pork Spending" that republicans are so famous for. They pay back their debts with tax dollars in the form of contracts.

    In truth, the only hope I see for our country is the internet. A place where people can actually promote candidates other than those lauded by the parties. It will not happen soon, but it will happen. If people who have not written letters in years are suddenly writing hundreds of emails each week then people who have not voted in years will start voting if given the chance to do so online.

  • Lowering prices and raising ease of use is the way technology democratizes itself. Currently, computer technology is in its infancy. Should it be surprising that the early adopters are primarily white male geek types? These are the kinds of people that currently design this technology. Is it a geek conspiracy or just a reflection of the way engineers see the world?

    Producers want to sell to the widest possible audience so improvements in interface and pricing will continue. It will then be up to the users to build the communities that work, whether real or virtual.

    Technology will not replace the choices that individuals choose to make or not to make. If individuals are alienated from politics, they have made the choice to stop voting, or they keep voting for the same old two parties.

    We get the government that we deserve. We have earned the mess we are in because of ignorance and apathy, not technology.
  • In general, technology doesn't cause the symptoms described. Rather, it enables the exposure of the problems. The more people believe (correctly or not) that they are powerless or can't affect anything or don't have the right to have an opinion, etc., the more they will use the technology available to pursue self-gratification alone. For example, as pointed out, technology could be very useful in resolving local neighborhood issues, but let's face it, it's hard to get any neighborhood together on anything, anymore. There are many causes, but one of them is that civil discussion is not trained or modeled (e.g., TV talk shows) or apparently valued (same e.g.). To engage in a neighborhood activity holds more danger than it used to. This isn't to say that a particular technology is morally neutral, necessarily (a position I used to hold). Certain technologies afford certain uses, and thus lead to certain preferred action. It's not that certain technologies can't be used for a moral use, it's just that it's a lot harder. Given that, I think most of what this post is referring to as "technology" doesn't necessarily afford immoral uses primarily (except for maybe TV :-).
  • by Dan Hayes ( 212400 ) on Tuesday August 22, 2000 @05:49AM (#837701)

    The trouble with the argument that technology is to blame for a lack of interest in politics is that these are issues that don't really have a direct causal connection - it's not fair to say that because technology is improving people are paying less and less attention to politics.

    But, it cannot be argued that the increasing march of technology has, in general, turned people away from the old USian small community ideal where people knew all of their neighbours. Indeed, this is not so much a problem with the US, although its effects are seen here to a greater degree than anyone else (perhaps due to its corporate-orientated economy in which people tend to get pushed into second place), but it is a global problem that has been ongoing for centuries.

    Technology has made us less and less able to relate to other people, and indeed to want to relate to them. In fact, whilst it has improved our conditions of living and made the transition from hunter-gatherer subsistance possible, it has also allowed us to concentrate on acquisitiveness at the cost of others, the roots of modern capitalism. And today, with the final death of any opposing systems, capitalism is seen as being somehow "right" for us. And capitalism is firmly linked to technology, made possible by such innovations as mass production.

    Unfortunately in capitalism people are seen less as individuals with their own special contributions to make, than as parts of an assembly line, valued for little more than what they produce. Indeed, modern economics treats everything as capital, including people. Is it little wonder that people are disaffected and unhappy, when their sole worth is considered to be what they produce?

    As people get less and less happy with their situation, they are of course going to become jaded and disullusioned. And politics is going to be seen as the root cause of this, since politicians have the perception of power, if not the substance.

    Why would people care about politics in this situation? In fact, they're more likely to come to mistaken views about the evils of "Big Government" than the true evil - capitalism, and it's partner technology.

  • Technology is not disconnecting the people from the political process. What is happening in American politics is that:

    1. The party machines and lobby groups are growing more sophisticated and are extending their control at the expense of that of the private citizen;

    2. Government has over the past decades extended its reach into areas of private and community life that were previously left alone because it is frequently felt that increasingly complex matters require increasingly detailed regulation;

    3. The success of the US economy has increased national and average personal wealth significantly, and this has inevitably engendered a sense of guilt and social responsibility towards the less fortunate. This manifests itself in a consensus that public welfare provision should be expanded (by whatever degree) - inevitably, this means more government, more funds, more scope for manipulation, and decreased political diversity as the consensus on political acceptability narrows.

    Each of these leads to a more complex government apparatus, which is of course going to attempt to preserve its own livelihood. It also means more jobs & influence for the mayor's/governor's/president's buddies, so the average politician is going to be disinclined to suggest radical reform.

    The range of choices open to the voter diminishes, and so fewer voters bother to cast their ballot (or even register to vote)

    This process has nothing to do with technology. It happened in Europe in the early part of the 20th century, and is now happening in America. It took Britain 50 years to build a complex welfare system that imposed (and still imposes) a huge drain on the national economy, and it took another 40 years to realise that it had to be reformed and scaled back. This is still going on, and will continue for years to come.

    It is of course possible to arrange for frequent county, state and federal plebiscites on a variety of matters, and it is easier to do this using the internet than with formal voting stations. However, the idea of representative democracy is that the elected representatives of the people make the decisions on their behalf, and such widespread popular voting would make this system irrelevant. In any case, would you want to have to vote three times a week every week?

    The cause of the problem is not technology. The answer is not technology. The cause is bigger government, and the answer is smaller government. Government at any level should only be doing what (a) only government (and not the people themselves) can do, and (b) to do this only when it is actually necessary (and not just desirable).

It's fabulous! We haven't seen anything like it in the last half an hour! -- Macy's