Nicholas Kulish digs into the rise of civil unrest in recent months, and finds decentralized, bottom-up, and spontaneous resistance to established order, even those parts of the establishment that theoretically represent the interests of ‘the people’, like political parties and unions:
Nicholas Kulish, As Scorn for Vote Grows, Protests Surge Around Globe
Increasingly, citizens of all ages, but particularly the young, are rejecting conventional structures like parties and trade unions in favor of a less hierarchical, more participatory system modeled in many ways on the culture of the Web.
In that sense, the protest movements in democracies are not altogether unlike those that have rocked authoritarian governments this year, toppling longtime leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Protesters have created their own political space online that is chilly, sometimes openly hostile, toward traditional institutions of the elite.
The critical mass of wiki and mapping tools, video and social networking sites, the communal news wire of Twitter and the ease of donations afforded by sites like PayPal makes coalitions of like-minded individuals instantly viable.
“You’re looking at a generation of 20- and 30-year-olds who are used to self-organizing,” said Yochai Benkler, a director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. “They believe life can be more participatory, more decentralized, less dependent on the traditional models of organization, either in the state or the big company. Those were the dominant ways of doing things in the industrial economy, and they aren’t anymore.”
Yonatan Levi, 26, called the tent cities that sprang up in Israel “a beautiful anarchy.” There were leaderless discussion circles like Internet chat rooms, governed, he said, by “emoticon” hand gestures like crossed forearms to signal disagreement with the latest speaker, hands held up and wiggling in the air for agreement — the same hand signs used in public assemblies in Spain. There were free lessons and food, based on the Internet conviction that everything should be available without charge.
Someone had to step in, Mr. Levi said, because “the political system has abandoned its citizens.”
The rising disillusionment comes 20 years after what was celebrated as democratic capitalism’s final victory over communism and dictatorship.
In the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, a consensus emerged that liberal economics combined with democratic institutions represented the only path forward. That consensus, championed by scholars like Francis Fukuyama in his book “The End of History and the Last Man,” has been shaken if not broken by a seemingly endless succession of crises — the Asian financial collapse of 1997, the Internet bubble that burst in 2000, the subprime crisis of 2007-8 and the continuing European and American debt crisis — and the seeming inability of policy makers to deal with them or cushion their people from the shocks.
Frustrated voters are not agitating for a dictator to take over. But they say they do not know where to turn at a time when political choices of the cold war era seem hollow. “Even when capitalism fell into its worst crisis since the 1920s there was no viable alternative vision,” said the British left-wing author Owen Jones.
Protests in Britain exploded into lawlessness last month. Rampaging youths smashed store windows and set fires in London and beyond, using communication systems like BlackBerry Messenger to evade the police. They had savvy and technology, Mr. Jones said, but lacked a belief that the political system represented their interests. They also lacked hope.
“The young people who took part in the riots didn’t feel they had a future to risk,” he said.
I will leave aside the political and economic motivations of the folks involved in these anti-establishment movements worldwide (if you’d like my views on that side of things, take a look at Underpaid Genius). However, as a student of social tools it is obvious to me that liquid media are so low-cost, ubiquitous, and social, that resistance movements will take on the shape of the tools that inform them.
And it also seems likely that the organizations that these activists oppose won’t adopt social tools to rally their supporters. They will use conventional media and communications. The establishment organizations are massively solid, and threatened by the apparently anarchic resistance that is popping up. But it will be like a bear trying to fight a swarm of bees.
Again, leaving aside my feelings of whether the resistance is justified, and simply accepting the premise that these protesters will continue their actions until dramatic changes take place, it seems obvious to me that this unrest will continue and it will grow.
Why? Liquid media provides a matrix in which the disaffected can easily come together around short-term and unmanaged activities. These activists don’t have to share long-term goals, pull together a complete platform, grow a large base of financial supporters, or even collate a list of all the participants of the action. There is no control, there is no organizing committee, there is no leader. This is loose alignment: cooperation.
These are the same reasons that business is moving toward a rōnin economy, based around short-term projects, leveraging freelancers and outsourced work groups. The efficiencies that arise when business politics are put aside and people simply focus on contributing to the immediate and clear-cut goals of a near-term project. I don’t have to agree with the long-term strategic goals of AOL, for example, if I come aboard for a short-term engagement. We just have to agree on highly constrained tasks for the project, and then go our own ways a few weeks or months later. I’m simply cooperating, while full-time employees of AOL have to get into line on the long-term strategy there: they have to join the collective, and collaborate consistently and over time.
So, we can expect that both sorts of pressures will impact our society. On one hand, organizations see the benefits arising using the rōnin workforce in short term projects. And on the other, the realm of social discourse is moving past talking toward outright civil unrest, leveraging the same sorts of efficiencies latent in loose cooperation.
Expect to see civil unrest increasing, directly in parallel with the adoption of these open social tools, and as the world slides into a more liquid configuration.