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I've been online since 1971 and I like to smoothe the way for everyone else. Among other things I co-founded Sympatico, the world's first easy-to-use Internet service (and Canada's largest).

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Megapolitics and Web 2.0

In 1987, James Dale Davidson and Lord William Rees-Mogg published their first book, Blood in the Streets: Investment Profits in a World Gone Mad. In it the authors introduced what they called “megapolitics”, and continued the theme further in The Great Reckoning (1991, revised 1993) and The Sovereign Individual (1997). A description from the third book:
[W]e argued that the most important causes of change are not to be found in political manifestos or in the pronouncements of dead economists, but in the hidden factors that alter the boundaries where power is exercised. Often, subtle changes in climate, topography, microbes, and technology alter the logic of violence. They transform the way people organize their livelihoods and defend themselves.
They listed four revolutions in human affairs, each driven by technological change (apologies that this is partly from memory as I still haven’t organized my books since moving four years ago; in particular this is Euro-centric while the authors were not so narrow):
  1. The invention of agriculture changed a loose hunter-gatherer society into an ordered society around private property.
  2. The invention of the stirrup made it possible to fight from horseback without being thrown off. Enter feudalism.
  3. The advent of gunpowder put an end to the feudal castles and led to the modern nation-state.
  4. The invention of the microprocessor made it possible for organizations to become much smaller, causing a breakdown in large systems — such as the modern nation-state.
So in 1987 they predicted the end of Communism, in 1991 they predicted that “Muhammad replaces Marx”, and in 1997 (following the emergence of the public Internet) they argued that skilled individuals would be able to operate largely independently of governments, undermining the tax base of welfare states. There were many, many other predictions. (And the best theory I’ve seen for why Jews and Muslims don’t eat pork: They were in a desert environment where food was a challenge. Pigs eat food that humans could eat, so although it’s fine to have a few around it’s a bad idea to have lots. But if one person has a pig, everyone else will feel entitled to have one too. You have to stop an entire population from raising pigs, and a religious taboo is how.)

I didn’t hear about their first book when it came out, but I did read the second, The Great Reckoning, cover to cover in both editions (very unusual for me, particularly for a 600-page book!), and it’s one of the books that has most profoundly shaped my thinking over my life to date.

Now to the Web 2.0 connection. In Mark Kuznicki’s recent post Search for a 21st Century Ideology he theorized the possibility of a “post-industrial New Deal” that appeals to members of the Creative Class. Since that post he’s begun a survey among members of the TorCamp community and others associated with the global BarCamp phenomenon, which it seems to me is effectively the World Association of Those Advancing Web 2.0. His objective is to help answer questions such as these:
Around the world, are there differences in the Barcamp political orientation? Are we all anti-authoritarian equality types who self-select to join ad-hoc unconferences based on the values of equality and the idea that leadership can come from anyone? As the Barcamp pattern continues its march around the world both within tech and increasingly in non-tech communities, what does this imply for a political dimension of this emerging global community?

The theory of megapolitics suggests that it is no accident that those at the forefront of the Web 2.0 revolution are anti-authoritarian, because a consequence of the revolution is that, unlike in the past, an authoritarian approach simply will not work effectively in the future.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post..this is fascinating. I have never read those books and I think I'll have to pick up "The Sovereign Individual". Much of my reading has argued that technological change has huge political consequences, and web 2.0 (the disintermediated web, the social web) is absolutely doing the same.
You've inspired some additional thoughts on this idea of a 21st century politics, which I just posted.

Monday, January 22, 2007 at 7:16:00 a.m. EST  
Blogger Rohan Jayasekera said... excerpts this post today, with the heading The new economy is for rule breakers, not rule-followers and under the major headline Web 2.0 is just another way to fight the power.

There you have it: as Jack Black’s character in the movie “The School of Rock” might say, Web 2.0 is about sticking it to The Man!

Monday, January 22, 2007 at 6:26:00 p.m. EST  
Anonymous whatdoguineapigseat said...

Thanks again for the blog post.Much thanks again. Want more.

Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 3:28:00 a.m. EST  

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