Social Media, Politics and the Nation-State

The BarCamp/TorCamp community is circulating a survey to discover this rapidly emerging global community’s political orientation. The project was inspired by my recent post Search for a 21st Century Ideology. The results so far indicate that these are strongly individualist, socially libertarian people with varying degrees of economic leftiness. Not surprising perhaps for a group of people who come together in ad-hoc unconferences where we are all equal participants and where leadership can emerge from anywhere.

In discussing the above-mentioned survey, Tom and others have commented on its flaws and the “false dichotomies” in its design. One can distrust both multinational corporations to do good in the world and the ability of governments to effectively address economic and social inequality. Which reinforces my question, what is a relevant political ideology for the 21st century?

Rohan makes some connections for us, and points to the book “The Sovereign Individual” which argues on the basis of “mega-politics” (large political shifts due to technological change and its relationship to the logic of violence), that individuals, enabled by information age technologies, will escape the sovereign clutches of the nation-state which will eventually lead to the collapse of the welfare state. I haven’t read these authors before, but the argument resonates with my question, if in a dystopian Children of Men kind of way. (If you’ve seen the film, watch the commentary by Slavoj Zizek on the Children of Men site. If you haven’t, go see it.)

Those of us who live in the social media world online have a certain amount of confidence in the new technologies and embrace them. Meanwhile, many who do not occupy social media space fear what this radical new world represents in terms of a new, frightening, society of millions of chaotic individual voices. Cultural commentators decry the decline of the cultural reference points of quality in this massively participatory new cultural playing field. It represents a loss of power, and in that loss of power, a loss of a certain sense of identity and stability that underpins our society.

In a boiling sea of technologically enabled individuals, neo-tribal confederations may emerge to supplant the nation-state and other social institutions. However, rather than a Mad Max dystopian future, I see hope in this transformation. One of the reasons for my hope is that online communities and social media technologies allow for the expression of our true multidimensional human nature. We don’t belong to one tribe, but to many, both in virtual and physical space. Our loyalties are therefore federated in a neo-tribal sense within the individual. We belong to business networks and markets, cities and communities, social and political causes and movements, families and national and religious affiliations. There are two implications of this:

  1. The knowledge that violence by one tribe of which I am a member may damage another tribe of which I am also a full member changes the calculus of violence
  2. Social media may be the medium of both the expression of these multidimensional identities and the mode of negotiating new social contracts among sovereign individuals.

This is early thinking, but I think it moves forward the discourse on 21st century ideology a bit for me.

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8 thoughts on “Social Media, Politics and the Nation-State”

  1. I believe in an A La Carte ideology.

    The old buckets just don’t apply the way they used to.

    But it’s also ultimately an “it depends” ideology

    for one, in many contexts could do with far more or just better laws and regulations in other contexts far less. and one’s answers to these survey questions are probably quite biased by simply whichever set of contexts come first to mind (or whichever the question makers plant in the questions)

    it’s the importance of balance and context that I fear gets trampled underfoot in some of these conversations.

  2. I read the sentence “Our loyalties are therefore federated in a neo-tribal sense within the individual” and actually understood it. I have come far indeed.

    The two implications you point out are, to me, brilliant new insights. I’m starting to smell future politics. With rare exceptions like Garth Turner, current politicians show little understanding of these emerging forces.

  3. I like the insightful analysis with empasis on shifts in power that enable individual-based relationships to emerge in a space that was traditionally mitigated or governed by the nation-state, or other authority or intermediary.

    The key ideas here may also be related to concepts of signal-to-noise ratio and filtering barriers. Whenever you introduce an intermediary, it’s like an element in a circuit that affects the quality of the current flowing through it (whether that “current” is currency, labour, resources, ideas or creativity).

    By removing the need for and reducing the number of intermediaries, the signal incrases in relationship to “noise” – which may allow different types of messages to emerge, not just more of the same messages (emergent property related to scaling).

    This dynamic may indeed neccessitate creation of new social relationships with associated political implications (some are likely to be disintermediated through this process, while new opportunities will open for others).

    These new types of social relationships will likely create new, reinterpreted social contexts that are mitigated in more distributed and decentralized ways (the Camps are a striking example).

    There may be some interesting implications of this:

    1. Since the new social intermediary is neutral and distributed, it is more impervious to effects of centralized disruption strategies
    2. This provides an environment for creation and proliferation of stable, lasting new types of emergent social relationships
    2. The new social relationships facilitate emergence of new identity, through a self-referrential process

    Although we may not yet fully anticipate what this new identity is all about or how it will manifest externally, we can probably start mapping the underlying elements that are crucial to its formation.

    The new identity will support the new ideology symbiotically – as both are emerging one another. One will probably be viewed as a symbolic representation of the other, in an archetypal sense. Scale is also likely to play an important role here.

    However, the challenging question will be whether this new identity and the emergent ideology will have the sufficient power to “save us”, and actually provide fundamentally new possibilities for reinterpreting our world and our role in it.

    Will it charter a way out of the Weber’s cage?

    Since we are dealing with emergence and complexity as underlying organizing principles, i am optimistic that this is possible – the whole can be greater, perhaps.

  4. Ok, I love comments on my blog. Rohan and Tom, thank you. I think we realize that our ideology and our identity is multidimensional. Goran, you slay me. Get a blog going, my friend! You need to share more of that delicious brain of yours.

    Goran’s really taken this to the next level, in an unexpected way. Emergence and complexity and the laws of self-organization.

    I made reference to this book in a post on Tara Hunt’s blog with respect to her concept of community in Pinko Marketing. She states that “community is about chaos” which I think has some truth in it, but doesn’t shed much light. I argue that community EMERGES from chaos according to laws that can be understood.

    Moreover, my own conceptualization of politics and community in a social media world may not be very helpful either. Emergence and complexity, yes of course. Try having that conversation at the union hall! At this point, is this all theoretical and well and good but not terribly useful? Do we have tools for emergent politics?

  5. More brilliant pointing out of implications, this time from Goran.

    Getting out of Weber’s cage may indeed be a promising outcome. But it would take time for that to extend beyond certain elites, and during this transitional period I expect the future to look anything but bright for those left behind. Especially when members of the Creative Class maximize their abilities by outsourcing the non-creative parts of their work to non-members. The Google Image Labeler can be fun, but probably not if you had to do it for a living.

  6. Mark comments “Try having that conversation at the union hall!”

    The union hall won’t be very impressed by most of this stuff. Unions usually look after their members by protecting the status quo as much as possible. Change of any kind threatens what the union is there to preserve.

  7. Mark, Rohan: thank you for your kind and insightful comments, i feel like i am in very good company here!

    Through collaboration we strenghten our memes and emerge new ones, generating new insights, concepts and ideas.

    We are also expanding our field of effective cognitive and perceptual possibilities.

    I like what Thomas said about context – can we extent that metaphor, and use context as an organizing governing principle, not just a method of encapsulating a “wireframe”?

    After all, context delineates a field of perceptual possibilities.

    If something is outside of that field, it is difficult to cognicize. Isn’t that what we are doing with tagging – propagating and distributing context, and both allowing and inviting mass participation to broaden the field of perceptual possibilities.

    This is also linked to our discussed ideas around identity, as expressed through the potential of self organization and actualization, perhaps through addressing issues and solving problems as key concepts of governanace.

    When solving problems and addressing issues, we can perhaps benefit from matching this field of perceptual possibilities of both the problem as defined, and the corresponding proposed solution-set (as a specific solution strategy, Verifier Method is doing some interesting work around this).

    The overall general approach can perhaps provide us with some more room to play. By considering the “totality” of an issue (imagine a multi-dimensional representation of an issue in blogosphere, for instance, as facets of a multidimensional structure), we can first render complex problems into their composite facets, and then associate them with cognitively equivalent problems that are easier to solve (standard mathematical technique).

    The distributed community approach can play a key role in this process.

    Mark’s comments brings new insight into the possibilities of emergent politics and opens some exciting questions – including what would the tools of emergent politics look like?

    As Mark points out, what can we effectively use from emergence and complexity theory and apply it to self-governing structures, including what we consider as key elements of such structures?

    For instance, are distributed content *and* context applied in equal measure, or are they 70/20/10? (And if so, what’s the missing part?)

    What are we in need of emerging the most – content or context? And, does this differ with respect to a given problem, situation, or proposed solution-set? We can then perhaps apply some of the complexity and emergence tools to starting exploring how to address those issues.

    As Rohan implies, the Creative Class adds key elements of engagement that change the operating dynamics of the system. Butterflies?

  8. Hi Mark

    Allow me to express a contrary opinion on one small point:

    The Sovereign Individual. Not much new thinking here. Warmed over. Ayn Rand. Neoliberalism. But on the plus side it’s in the bargain bin, so you won’t pay much if you do decide to pick it up!

    I read this book back in the nineties and have to regretfully turn thumbs down to this book for three reasons

    1. The book was dead wrong with its predictions. Written in 1997, it predicts a huge weakening of state power. Actually, the precise opposite has happened since September 11; the state has used terrorism fears to vastly increase its powers. And the power of the WTO and similar organizations to curb government’s activities has faded somewhat since then.

    2. The authors were ludicrously wrong in the past. Check out “The Great Reckoning, Protect Yourself in the Coming Depression” (1994). Still waiting for the Great Depression, twelve years later. Not much of a track record in the prognostication game, but I give them points for trying.

    3. To be quite honest, I disagree with most of what the authors stand for, which is concisely that

    a)The worst thing that can happen to an individual is that they have to pay tax and accept regulation of their economic activities

    b)And nothing else really matters

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