Emergent Hypocrisy

While Lessig and Searls accept the legitimacy of the democratic recall, some of our Emergent Democracy advocates are having a hard time with the people’s judgment.

Ross Mayfield tries to convey an untenable distinction between Emergent Democracy as an exercise of the pure of heart in contrast to the Big Money pollution that envelopes government in a capitalist economy:

Emergent Democracy should differ from Direct Democracy. Self-organization, deliberation, and citizen driven initiatives — where the constraint is equal interest of the people — is in stark contrast to modern direct democracy. Dean’s decentralized organization is in contrast to professional pertitioners.

Joi Ito beats the tom-toms in favor of grass-roots elitism as an alternative to the rule of the unwashed masses:

Emergent democracy is about leadership through giving up control, activating the people to engage through deliberation and action, and allowing emergent order to grow from the grass roots. It’s the difference between a couch potato clicking the vote button and a group of people starting their own Dean coalition group.

And Mitch Ratcliffe chimes in with some loud clucks against The Politicians:

The question in emergent democracy is how to make everyone a politician, again. In early democracies, every citizen–a narrowly defined group of patricians, in most cases–was expected to be involved. The problem we have today is that most citizens leave politics “to the professionals” and then complain that they feel alienated from the system.

This is an awfully pure and austere model, where the people have to each and every one take the time out of their busy days to study each and every issue for themselves in order to govern without representatives, or at least without paid ones.

The question that it raises following the recall is, of course, how the people — even when armed with super-fantastic blogware — can make detailed policy decisions if they can’t be trusted by the technical elite to make basic personnel decisions as we did in the recall.

And if a Dean Meetup is an example of Emergent Democracy and good, how can it be that a group of grass-roots volunteers lead by Ted Costa organizing a petition drive is bad? When Ted Costa let Darrell Issa pay some signature gatherers a pittance ($1.5M, compared to the $10M Davis spent warping the Republican primary) wasn’t that an example of leading by giving up control?

Obviously, Emergent Democracy is any process that defeats the Republican Party, whether it’s in Sacramento, Washington, or Baghdad, and the process is utterly unimportant.

UPDATE: Ratcliffe says I’ve got him all wrong. What he really wants is:

…citizens should be able to organize to address specific issues without having to embrace the top-down plans of government. That means organizing to have their own representatives on specific issues, figuring out ways to pay them (enough money flows in politics–it’s an industry) to hive off some portion of a living from being involved in one’s community.

It appears to me he’s just described the Recall. Citizens organized to address the problem of Gray Davis’ lack of honesty and leadership, and rather than relying on his top-down leadership style (“the legislature is here to implement my vision”) they replaced him with a man who represented their values. They figured out how to pay for the recall by putting their own money up, and they hired campaign consultants and attorneys to remove the barriers erected by the ACLU, the Casinos, the labor unions, and the other anti-democratic forces in California.

If you like democracy, of any kind, you have to love the recall.

8 thoughts on “Emergent Hypocrisy”

  1. What I think is bothersome about this is that if “people have to each and every one take the time out of their busy days to study each and every issue” do such studying by reading media outlets to educate themselves, instead of actually educating themselves with public records.

    For example, until this recall business, I was unaware of some things until I had checked actual and real public records….such as:

    -CA does not actually spend more than $29 million per day more than it takes in, like the media has purported. In actuality, the state takes in more than $6 million in revenue.

    -it was Pete Wilson that signed the state energy deregulation plan, in 1996, (27-2 in the state senate) and not Davis, who didn’t have a hand in it.

    I’m not arguing Davis didn’t add to the energy woes, and I’m not trying to make my comment about the recall, or Davis, really…just about how much I am realizing what burden of intelligence is placed on voters when it comes to evaluating past performance, and how much of that is “provided” by the media, and consumed as fact. But if the LA Times, NYT, Washington Post, and other media outlets are the only sources of education about issues, which they are for many many people, then voters will make decisions based on what people like Maureen Dowd and Paul Krugman say, and not what the facts are.

    Of course, this is what is demanded of voters pretty much every time there is an election, but it would just have to happen more often.

  2. Richard — As usual, you let your ideology get in the way of real insight. You misrepresent my position on political participating entirely, as I don’t think everyone should participate in every decision. Rather, they should have the ability to organize to influence any individual issue through representatives and by addressing problems themselves without having to rely on top-down policies that aren’t effective or efficient in their community. Leaving everything to professionals, who care more about their own power than about the people they are supposed to serve is a problem, whether you want to see it or not. I remember when Republicans believed that, but you exercise your selective memory here in the omphalos, picking at the mental lint you’ve collected and we’ll get on with making the United States into a real republic, again.

    Does Bush need to go? Yes. He is undermining the Constitution and the democratic process, besides killing a lot of young Americans for a misguided foreign policy designed primarily to distract the electorate from the awful job he’s doing here at home. More .

  3. Sty,

    I would suggest you keep digging a little deeper into the public records if you buy in to the crap that California is actually running a surplus (which by the way, I’ve heard politicians and read in newspapers). If you look at the budget (www.cpb.org) objectively, it’s pretty clear we’re operating on a huge deficit.

    Take for instance $10.7B Bond that we’re floating just to cover this year’s spending, which is probably unconstitutional and would definitely make even an Enron accountant squeamish. We’re also using all future tobacco settlement funds ($2.3B) to cover this year, as well as $4.4B in internal borrowing and stealing fund away from local communities.

    From my point of view, the $29M a day is on the low side, and if you use the logic that we’ve got a surplus by including borrowing, then, hell, the federal gov’t has been running a surplus since it’s inception.

  4. Will — thanks for good information…this is EXACTLY what I’m talking about.

    My data about that was to counter the statement made by Arnold about the $29M per day, based on what the State Finance Director Steve Peace had said:

    “Contrary to Arnold’s statement that revenue was running behind spending by $29 million each day, we are actually taking in $6 million more per day than we are spending right now”

    so is Arnold wrong, or is Steve Peace wrong ? I assume that Steve Peace would have some legal responsibility to the state for providing reliable information. (could be wrong about that…let me know)

    How many people will (or even be able to) open up the General Fund ledger for the state, and be able to know what the ^*#% is actually going on with the state budget, forget about making an intelligent judgement on how to manage it in the future ? The answer is…most people can’t.

    my point is not whether or not I’m right about the numbers based on my info, or your numbers which you say is based on your “point of view”…my point is that if “emergent democracy” relies upon regular, “non-politically” educated citizens to educate themselves the way they’ve been doing (i.e. reading heavily biased blogs, newspapers, and watching TV) then it’s not only not going to work, it will be awful.

  5. The real crime in all this is the state and federal governments are accounting on a cash basis, which does not recognize future liabilities, like bond debt, employee pensions, and (worst of all) SSI and Medicare. Most businesses use the accrual method, which recognizes future liabilities, but at the same time counts future revenue. In the long run, the accrual method is more honest.

  6. There you have it. When the courts strike down the illegal revenue bonds the legislature and Davis wanted to sell to paper-over the operating deficit, the cash flow position will dramatically reverse, too.

  7. Richard — there’s nothing wrong with recalls or the initiative process in a widely informed society. When there are very few sources of news and they militate with political groups to elect someone who reads scripts but doesn’t speak extemporaneously, they leave something to be desired. The recall was great — I’d have liked to have seen it go the other way, since the budget crisis is the result of Pete Wilson’s misguided energy deregulation and collusion by the Bush Administration with the energy industy and its general failure in domestic policy leading to the bankrupting of the states — but I don’t contest the right of citizens to organize to get a recall on the ballot.

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