Thursday, November 5, 2009

Future Democracy 2.0

The Director of The Future Planet Research Centre- David Hunter Tow, predicts a number of indicators are pointing to a major leap towards a more public participatory form of democracy in the near future-a new model of democracy– Democracy 2.0
Democracy as with all other processes engineered by human civilisation is evolving at a rapid rate.

Web 2.0’s social networking, blogging, messaging and video services have already significantly changed the way people discuss and exchange ideas on the Web. In addition a number of popular sites exist as forums to actively harness people’s opinions and encourage debate about contentious topics, funneling them to political processes. These are often coupled to online petitions, allowing the public to deliver opinions and requests to Government and receive a response.

In addition there are a plethora of specialized browsers and analytical tools aimed at locating and interpreting information about contentious topics such as global warming and medical advances. These are increasingly linked to Argumentation frameworks, supporting the logical basis of arguments, negotiation and other structured forms of group-decision making. New logic and statistical tools can also provide inference and evaluation mechanisms to better assess the evidence for a particular hypothesis.

Such ‘intelligence-based’ algorithms are rapidly becoming capable of automating the analysis and advice provided to politicians, to a similar quality level as that offered by human experts. It might be argued that there is still a need for the role of politicians and leaders in assessing and prioritising expert advice in the overriding national interest. But a moment’s reflection leads to the opposite opinion. Politicians have party allegiances and internal obligations that can create serious conflicts of interest and skew the best advice. History is replete with disastrous decisions based on false premises driven by party political bias. One needs to look no further in recent times than the patently inadequate evidential basis for the US’s war in Iraq.

Democracy has a long evolutionary history. The current cyber-based advances presage a much more interactive public form of democracy and mark the next phase in its ongoing evolution.

The concept of democracy - the notion that men and women have the right to govern themselves – was practised at around 2,500 BP in Athens. The Athenian polity or political body, granted all citizens the right to be heard and to participate in decision making; while the City State demanded services from the individual in return. There is evidence however that the role of popular assembly actually arose earlier in some Phoenician cities such as Sidon and Babylon in the ancient assemblies of Syria- Mesopotamia as an organ of local government and justice.

Democracy, as demonstrated in these early periods, although imperfect, offered each individual a stake in the nation’s collective decision-making processes. It therefore provided a greater incentive for each individual to increase group productivity. Through a more open decision process wealth is generated and distributed more equitably. An increase in overall economic wellbeing in turn generates more possibilities and potential to acquire knowledge, education and employment, coupled to greater individual choice and freedom.

The evolution of democracy can also be seen in terms of improved human rights. The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and several ensuing legal treaties define political, cultural and economic rights as well as the rights of women, children, ethnic groups and religions. This declaration is intended to create a global safety net of rights applicable to all peoples everywhere, with no exceptions. It also recognises the principle of the subordination of national sovereignty to the universality of human rights; the dignity and worth of human life beyond the jurisdiction of any state.

The global spread of democracy is now also irreversibly linked to the new cooperative globalisation model, with the EU providing a compelling template; complementing national decisions in the global interest at the commercial, financial, legal, health and information-sharing level. The spread of new technology and knowledge industries also provides the opportunity for developing countries to gain a quantum leap in material wellbeing, an essential prerequisite for a stable democracy.

Dictatorships or quasi democratic one party states still exist in Africa and Asia with regimes such as China, North Korea, Zimbabwe, Burma, the Sudan and Belarus seeking to maintain total control over their populations. However two thirds of sub-Saharan countries have staged elections in the past ten years, with coups becoming less common and wars waning. African nations are also starting to police human rights in their own region. African Union peacekeepers now deployed in Darfur and are working with UN peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

According to the Freedom House Report, an independent survey of political and civil liberties around the globe, the world has made great strides towards democracy in the 20th and 21st centuries. In 1900 there were 25 restricted democracies in existence covering an eighth of the world’s population, but none which could be judged as based on universal suffrage. The US and Britain denied voting rights to women and in the case of the US, also to African Americans. But at the end of the 20th century 119 of the world’s 192 nations were declared electoral democracies. In the current century, democracy continues to spread through Africa and Asia and significantly also the Middle East, with over 130 states in various stages of democratic evolution.

However there is still a disjunction between the developed west and those developing countries only now recovering from colonisation and subsequent domination by dictators, fascist regimes and warlords. There is in fact a time gap of several hundred years between the democratic trajectory of the west and east, which these countries are endeavouring to bridge within a generation; often creating serious short-term challenges and cultural dislocations.

A very powerful enabler for the spread of democracy as mentioned is the Internet/Web. By increasing the flow of essential knowledge it facilitates transparency, reduces corruption, empowers dissidents and ensures governments are more responsive to their citizen’s needs. It is already providing the infrastructure for the emergence of Democracy 2.0; empowering all people to have direct input into critical decision processes affecting their lives, without the distortion of political intermediaries.

Over time democracy as with all other social processes will evolve to best suit the demands of its human environment. It will emerge as a networked model- a non-hierarchical, resilient protocol, responsive to rapid social change. Such networked forms of government will involve local communities from the ground up; the opposite of hierarchical decision-making, as implemented by current political systems. These are frequently unresponsive to individual and minority group needs and can be easily corrupted by powerful lobby groups such as those employed by the heavy carbon emitters in the global warming debate.

The networked architecture is now evolving supported by the Web and will provide more democratic outcomes for all populations on the planet. Decision processes will to be sifted through global community knowledge, resulting in truly representative and equitable global governance. Democracy itself will continue to evolve with new forms of e-government, which will include the active participation of advocacy groups supported by a consensus of expert knowledge via the intelligent Web.

A form of global consciousness will evolve, where the back channel of opinion will gradually subsume hierarchical filtered political processes. New forms of the democratic process at the community and regional level are already growing, pointing towards the emergence of a new form of truly representative public participation and cooperation- Democracy 2.0.

This trend ensuring a fairer and more peaceful society must continue if humanity is to survive the turmoil and uncertainty of dramatic change ahead.

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