Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Politics of Chaos...

The Washington Post recently ran an article describing the "widening gap between Democrats and Republicans on the Internet, and that [the GOP] will have to scramble to catch up". The article cites how Democratic presidential candidates have attracted far more website visitors and raised more campaign money over the web than their Republican counterparts, however the most striking aspect of the article is its brief examination of the causes for this digital disparity.

The article asserts that the chaos inherent to the Democratic Party (not getting 20 people to ever agree on the same thing or stay on message) is now a valuable asset in cyberspace. The diversity of ideas and wide range of opinions - more evident with the Democrats than with the Republican Party, which has historically prided itself for being more disciplined - leads to vigorous debate in the blogosphere, and thus the power and reach of left-leaning blogs have thus far been more successful in those two essential political activities - fundraising and mobilizing the grassroots base.

Certainly, this is an argument and not a statement of fact. Critics might see the successes of the liberal blogosphere as being more the result of, say, the demographics of internet-savvy users, than the idea of Republicans having some innate aversion to undisciplined dialogue. Stereotyping entire political parties and all of their millions of members on such a basis is not exactly the way to construct a strong argument.

However, it is a fascinating idea that chaos can be a political asset. In the past, surely there have been public speakers who would make reference to chaos in the streets as a way of invoking fear, and turning that into political will. But in the Internet Age, is chaos actually something to be embraced and encouraged as a public good? John Stuart Mill would say yes, and that the more chaotic the "marketplace of ideas" the better, in terms of maintaining a healthy democracy.

It's no surprise to anybody that the Internet is something of a free-for-all and makes controlling one's message with a top-down command-and-control approach impossible. But to, not control the chaos, but embrace it as a positive method of advancement is an idea truly revolutionary in respect to systems of control and power. We can see this fight between those who want to control it versus those who embrace it as a positive engine of growth play out on numerous other digital fronts - perhaps the most prominent example being the RIAA and the music industry as compared to Web 2.0 sites like YouTube and Wikipedia.

So maybe this isn't anything new, but just an encapsulation of an idea we've already come to know and understand. But how the politics of chaos will be framed over the next few years will ultimately have a tremendous effect on, not only political discourse, but also more tangible entities like electoral outcomes and public institutional arrangements.
  

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