We are Responsible for the Way Things Are

Sorry for the radio silence – I’m just back from the UK, where access was a problem. (Actually, we were being put up in such a swanky neighborhood that there were no Internet cafes. We did, eventually, find a phone booth with a public terminal for email.)

I did five talks in three days, all about my Demos book, Open Source Democracy. It’s really the same thing I’ve been saying about media, society, and later Judaism, but thrown against the backdrop of participatory governance.

In some ways, this model of activism based in the present tense, rather than on behalf of some fictional future, is the best application of the ‘renaissance’ or ‘designer reality’ I’ve been writing about since the Cyberia days. And I’m finally experienced and well-read enough by now to make decent arguments for the ways that new media technologies (such as the 22-letter alphabet) can serve to promote new levels of literacy and participation.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the absolute seriousness and nihilism of much of my audience. The majority of government ministers with whom I spoke seemed bent on finding ways to prevent themselves from considering new ideas – as if even wrapping their minds around a new concept for a even a moment would wreck the sanctity of their current established methodology. No amount of research (except in the form of a public opinion poll) would be enough to change their thinking.

So, instead of engaging in conversation, most of these folks played high school debate. This sort of banter looks fun when it’s people playing “Parliament” on TV, but it’s not so very productive.

Many of the younger people I spoke with at the ICA on Friday night seemed to suffer from a similar affliction – refusing to engage with the notion that their actions in the present might actually matter. The notion that local activity performed by millions, taken cumulatively, could actually have an effect on the “powers that be” was rejected outright. I argued that we should act right now as if we have won our revolution, and begin behaving consistent with our truest ideals, rather than making such behavior contingent on a new narrative.

But to do so would have meant taking responsibility for the way things are right now – which is still too painful a concept for too many of us.

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