Modern technology has produced some rather perverse ‘side effects’.
What used to be called ‘democracy’ has slowly been driven into ‘mob rule’.
It is hard to determine whether this is the desired effect of some (un) ‘intelligent design’ or an unforeseen consequence of the callous machinations of the ‘power hungry’ but it doesn’t matter much, does it?
Let me first clarify some concepts.
For me ‘democracy’ is way much more than what happens in and around the polling stations.
Fairly counting the votes is indeed important but even more important is what takes place long before the ballots are cast.
A really functional democracy is that where every stakeholder has the opportunity to voice their concerns and where the rest pay attention to everything that is said in the public square. By both their political friends and by their political adversaries.
In fact no ballot can be cast efficiently unless the voters have developed a fair image of what is going on in their society. While no one can develop an actually complete understanding of anything, let alone one regarding such a complex system as an entire society, we must jealously keep in our minds that ‘not entirely complete’ is one thing and ‘heavily biased’ through a severe lack of pertinent information is quite a different one.
On the other hand ‘mob rule’ is a what happens when voters’ passions are so high that enough of them are no longer able to think with their own heads and allow themselves to be ‘led by the nose’. Into voting for a specific somebody or, alternatively, into not voting at all ‘because it doesn’t matter, anyway’.
At first democracy actually meant first hand, person to person, meetings in the public square.
The Ancient Greeks solved their ‘state affairs’ in the Agora, the Romans in the Forum while “Althingi” (the name of the oldest parliament that is still in existence, that of Iceland) means ‘General Assembly’.
Slowly, as the constituencies grew larger, the stakeholders needed some more sophisticated manners of keeping in touch. Luckily for them, Gutenberg had already invented the printing press. The American Founding Fathers – who had made good use of this first instrument of what was going to be the mass-media – had insisted passionately on the ‘freedom of the press’. And for good reasons. As I pointed out a little earlier, access to information is paramount for an efficient decision. Further more printed material is a very handy tool when it comes to conveying information from one person to another. Its rather stable nature allows it to survive unadulterated, at least for a while. So it can be handled around or kept for further reference since it is relatively easy to organize. And searched at will. All these discouraging the ‘communicators’ from lying – blatantly, at least. Since lies where relatively easy to pin-point and prove those who needed to maintain their credibility refrained themselves from ‘exaggerating’ too much. The fact that the general public was rather particular about this kind of things also helped in this matter.
Later, when radio and television were introduced, things had become more complicated. Given the fleeting nature of spoken – rather than printed – words, the ‘talking heads’ felt less compelled to stick to the straight and narrow.
Things were compounded by the advent of the ‘political-marketing specialists’ and of the ‘bean counters’.
The latter kept insisting that the mass-media venues have to be as profitable as possible – hence publish more and more of ‘what the audience asks for’ instead of bona-fide information while the former kept telling to the politicians that they have to ‘get under the skin of their constituents’ – by, again, telling them what they were more likely to believe instead of treating them as the grown-up adults they were.
The consequence of all this merchandising was that the erstwhile more or less compact public has been gradually carved up into discrete, and growingly separate, ‘publics’. Otherwise known as ‘echo-chambers’.
The apparition of the Internet/social networks has further deepened the already existent divides. People no longer know what the others really think or feel. But their ignorance doesn’t keep them from having opinions. Or from voting about things they do not really understand. So they vote how they are told by their trusted ‘analysts’/’experts’.
Now, is it of any use for us to blame anybody for what had happened?
Or would it be a lot better for all of us to grow out of this before the ‘whirlwind’ makes a ‘hard landing’ on top of our heads?