Internet and systems of governance

How feasible is the ideal of participatory democracy through the Internet

Essay by NIKOLAOS A. IOANNIDIS  Copyright 2002

 

N. Ioannidis  is a composer, musicologist, multi-instrumentalist performer, media theorist, and digital media creative producer (with formal qualifications in Music, Musicology, Media Studies, and Digital Media Studies) who is researching ancient Greek music and its relationship with all musical cultures, that have been subject to classical Greek cultural influence.

 

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For a list of other online essays on Music and Media by IOANNIDIS you can visit his ESSAYS page.

 

A list of all IOANNIDIS' works (musical works, lyrics, essays, translations of classical texts) is available at his WORKS page.

 

MP3 files of his musical works  (samples and some full songs) are available for downloading at the Ioannidis Mp3 page

 

Works  of interest to classicists and composers

 

The Music of Ancient Greeks    an approach to the original singing of the Homeric epics and the lyrical poetry of the 8th-5th century B.C.

 

MUSIC and RELIGION (extant ancient Greek religious songs, Byzantine chant, Gregorian chant, Quranic chant)

 

Oedipus Rex English opera. Audio excerpt of this work is available online in mp3 format. Also available is the complete Greek text of Sophocles' tragedy "Oedipus the king".

 

Also, a new page presenting IOANNIDIS' research project at the University of Sussex will be available here soon. The subject of this research project is the relation of ancient Greek music with all musical cultures that have been subject to classical Greek cultural influence.

 

Works  of interest to poets and lyricists 

 

Ancient Greek epic and lyrical poems translated into English by Ioannidis  (The original Greek texts are also available at the same page) 

 

LYRICS   (to songs from the albums Mass insanity , BE A MASTER OF YOUR FATE! ,  AREN'T YOU FED UP? ) dealing with the dominant political, social, and ethical issues of our time: the erosion of the nation state, globalization, terrorism, the moral and cultural decadence of modern society.

 

Works  of interest to music performers

 

Instrumental performance:12-string Guitar Works (12 string classical guitar), Mass insanity (electric guitar, fretless guitar), The Music of Ancient Greeks   (ancient Greek instruments -ancient kithara, aulos, ethnic percussion).

Vocal performance: MUSIC and RELIGION (including some tracks with performance of ancient Greek instruments)

 

 

 At the IOANNIDIS shopping page  you can buy or download the composer's CDs,  and even create a custom collection of songs to be burned on a CD, using the simple, fast and secure Homo Ecumenicus online  payment service or other payment methods (PayPal, Cheque, Money Order, Bank transfer). Sound clips of all songs are available at the IOANNIDIS mp3 downloading page, where you can listen to samples and download songs at the price of  $ 1.00 per song.

 

 

      

The spread of the Internet and all the latest developments in communication technology has led many political scientists to debate concepts of direct democracy, which could become realistic under the current circumstances. This essay argues that these revolutionary  technological developments are new tools of freedom which can liberate citizens from the grip of the propaganda machines called conventional mass media, which have turned the public discourse into a carnival show of politicians, pop stars, priests, fortune-tellers, psychics, prostitutes - and whatever ugly thing there is in our society, keeping the intelligent and creative citizens hostages to the choices of the manipulated, ignorant masses. The Internet, in particular, with its anarchic structure and its ability to allow full public access to information, can, on one hand, inspire political participation and political creativity, and on the other provide the means for a new way of political organizing and thus  lead to the replacement of the present inadequate political system of representative democracy  by a new efficient system of governance.

    
       Unlike conventional mass media -television, radio, newspapers, magazines, and films, where a small number of people have the power to determine which information should be made available to the mass audience, this new mass medium which has a potential worldwide reach, can make every member of the audience a potential  publisher because of its ability for interactive communication.  This means that the new technology can enable the individual to stop being a part of the mass and become a person, who has his own will and his own ability to shape the society he lives in. The existence of such a power may stimulate people's involvement in decision making and awaken their responsibility, so that they start thinking for themselves about finding a way out of the admittedly sick condition of the society we now live in, which is guided and takes direction not from its brain but from the lower instincts of the masses. The first step towards change would be  the dissemination of information, which would make people turn their back to the bombardment with messages by the broadcast media monopolies, whose effect is to drive society into habits leading to environmental destruction as well as self-destruction. The only messages people get through conventional media are of the type: buy garbage, then throw it away and fill the world with waste, and then get sedated, so that you won't feel the discomfort caused by sitting in it! I can't find a more fitting description for conventional media's content, when almost all of it is a direct or gray advertisement of fashion, alcohol, drugs, sick vanity, and porn-shows in the disguise of art. But then again, if a few people have control of who has a voice and who hasn't, and those people are the friends of the governing party who have been given licenses to make money by selling advertising, it is only natural that there can be nothing else on air but advertisements. This also explains why the anarchic nature of the Internet which keeps out this propaganda machine, made it the only channel for all kinds of information that never made it into the mass media. This kind of information by exposing the incompetence of nation-states in performing their duties and thus challenging their role, made it evident that the industrial-era model of representative democracy  has eroded and that we need to build a new system of governance.


         
The most successful democratic revolution in history, the Athenian Democracy 2500 years ago, was made possible by a citizenry that was involved in their community and felt responsible for their polis and society.  The fundamental presupposition of the ancient Greek political life (as becomes obvious from Plato's Republic and Aristotle's Politics and Athenian Constitution) was the absolute priority of the community, the polis, over the individual. Citizens enjoyed freedom only in so far as they participated in the political life of their community and, through their actions, sustained its existence and furthered its welfare. However, membership to such a community was not granted to anyone, hence the distinction between Polites(=citizens) and Idiots(=privates). Polites was the citizen who was well informed and could actively participate in all common affairs, while Idiots were those not qualified to participate in decision making and the political process in general, as these were mostly the uncultivated peasants living in the periphery of the polis (The word 'idiot' owes its current meaning to the fact that Greeks considered the Idiots uncivilized, primitive, apolitic beings).  In that political community, each citizen could directly affect the decision making process by speaking and voting in an assembly held more than 40 times a year.  This system established some principles, which modern democracies have followed and this is the reason why Ancient Athens is generally considered as the birthplace of democracy, though, in my opinion, the Athenian model was an aristocracy rather (rule of the aristoi=worthiest) than a democracy in the current sense of the term (rule of the people). Those principles were: a) All qualified citizens should have the right to vote and hold office, b) The duty of all citizens is to actively participate in the political process, and c) Majority votes should make decisions. These exact concepts of equality, active participation, inclusive nature, majority rule, and informed opinion are now the basic principles of modern constitutions all over the world. In practice, however, the modern states that now consider themselves to be democracies are run by the process generally known as 'representative' democracy, where the only thing not happening for sure is participation of the citizens in decision making. As in Athenian democracy, the basic principle in modern democracies is that every citizen is entitled to an equal voice in deciding how they should be governed. In modern democracies, however, this voice is heard only once every four or five years, in elections where voters elect those who will represent them, assuming that it will be the interests of the constituents and the community that will be served and not those of the party or the representatives themselves. Well, we all know whose interests are served after the elections and how obliged are the winner candidates to respect the wishes of their constituents or keep their promises during their term in office. The truth is that  even the citizens of the most advanced western societies have little or no influence on the decisions affecting their lives.  Furthermore, it is not a secret any more that all representative democracies are run by special-interest groups that are lobbying governments.


         
  Many advocates of technological liberation are discussing online the feasibility of an electronic Athenian agora made possible by digital  technology, and especially the Internet. The main counter argument is that in the small communities of the Greek antiquity it was easy to have an Athenian type direct democracy, in which everybody could participate in the decision making process.  The recent advances in communications technology, however, have made it possible for huge numbers of people from everywhere in the world to interact and exchange ideas exactly as if they were talking face to face. Physical distances are no longer an obstacle  to maintaining direct contact between the participants in the political process. Effective communication means are now existent and, even on the scale of the present global population, the vision of an electronic Athenian agora could become practical again .  People no longer need a representative to express their will. They can very well express their will directly and this makes the Representative system redundant. Because, more and more people are now interacting electronically on the Net, and building virtual communities independent of location. Cyberspace is gradually substituting all the public places such as the public square, the village church, the park, or the tavern, which in the past served as places for political gathering and discussion. Now such gatherings take place on-line where a new kind of public sphere is taking form, which transcends geography and national identity. This new public sphere transcends also all kinds of hierarchies -of race, class, age, and gender. For example, by reading the posts in discussion groups, it is rather unlikely to determine information such as a user's age, gender, nationality, or disability. What we see is the emergence of a new public sphere, that of the Internet users, where democratic processes are conducted in the form of a global scale, decentralized public discourse. In this discourse, everyone is expressing their views on every imaginable issue of common concern, and this is the essence of participatory democracy.


       
All the above examples of participatory democracy practices, that we currently see on the Net, are evidence that the new communication technologies enable forms of direct democracy which could not be practical until now, because of the problem of size. Today, it is possible for millions of people to make every political decision directly, without representatives, and make their own contribution to the public debate free of any form of censorship. New opportunities and challenges for political participation make their appearance online every day and make possible the shifting from the mass-based political model of representative democracy  to a networked one, which will make the Athenian type participatory democracy a feasible ideal.

 

         

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