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Rushkoff's Open Source Democracy
Alex Steffen, 29 Oct 03

What happens when the open source model hits political institutions? That may well be the central political question of the decade. Douglas Ruskoff's pitching out some answers, and the British thinktank Demos has just published the entire text of Rushkoff's new book Open Source Democracy: How online communication is changing offline politics in an open access licence which allows you to download it for free (it's a 297KB pdf file).

"Globalism, at least as it is envisioned by the more expansionist advocates of free market capitalism, only exacerbates the most dangerously retrograde strains of xenophobia. The market’s global aspirations (as expressed by Global Business Network co-founder Peter Schwartz’s slogan ‘Open markets good. Closed markets bad. Tattoo it on your forehead’) amount to a whitewash of regional cultural values. They are as reductionist as the tenets of any fundamentalist religion. In spite of the strident individualism of this brand of globalist rhetoric, it leaves no room for independent thinking or personal choice, except insofar as they are permitted by one’s consumption decisions or the way one chooses to participate in the profit-making game. ...As a result, globalism, to almost anyone but a free market advocate, has come to mean the spread of the Western corporate value system to every other place in the world. Further, the bursting of the bubble, followed by the revelation of corporate malfeasance and insider trading, exposed corporate capitalism’s dependence on myths; stories used to captivate and distract the public while the storytellers ran off with the funds. ...Globalism was reduced, in the minds of most laypeople, to one more opaque mythology used to exploit the uninitiated majority.

(more excerpt in the extended entry)

"One model for the open-ended and participatory process through which legislation might occur in a networked democracy can be found in the ‘open source’ software movement. Faced with the restrictive practices of the highly competitive software developers, and the pitifully complex and inefficient operating systems such as Microsoft Windows that this process produces, a global community of programmers decided to find a better development philosophy for themselves. They founded one based in the original values of the shareware software development community, concluding that proprietary software is crippled by the many efforts to keep its underlying code a secret and locked down.


"The implementation of an open source democracy will require us to dig deep into the very code of our legislative processes, and then rebirth it in the new context of our networked reality. It will require us to assume, at least temporarily, that nothing at all is too sacred to be questioned, reinterpreted and modified. But in doing so, we will be enabled to bring democracy through its current crisis and into its next stage of development. But, like literacy, the open source ethos and process are hard if not impossible to control once they are unleashed. Once people are invited to participate in, say, the coding of a software program, they begin to question just how much of the rest of our world is open for discussion. They used to see software as an established and inviolable thing – something married to the computer. A given circumstance.

"With an open source awareness ,they are free to discover that the codes of the software have been arranged by people , sometimes with agendas that hadn’t formerly been apparent . One of the most widespread realisations accompanying the current renaissance is that a lot of what has been taken for granted as ‘hardware’ is, in fact, ‘software’ capable of being reprogrammed. They tend to begin to view everything that was formerly set in stone – from medical practices to the Bi ble – as social constructions and subject to revision. Likewise as public awareness of emergence theory increases, people are beginning to observe their world differently, seeing its principles in evidence everywhere. Formerly esoteric subjects such as urban design or monetary policy become much more central as the public comes to recognise the power of these planning specialties to establish the rules through which society actually comes into existence....

"The new transparency offered by the interactive mediaspace allows even the casually interested reader to learn how the West’s foreign and domestic policies have been twisted to a perverse caricature of themselves. I do not wish here to beat the drum for a partisan revolution. Instead, I am to demonstrate how a growing willingness to engage with the underlying code of the democratic process could eventually manifest in a widespread call for revisions to our legal, economic and political structures on an unprecedented scale, except in the cases of full-fledged revolution. Transparency in media makes information available to those who never had access to it before. Access to media technology empowers those same people to discuss how they might want to change the status quo. Finally, networking technologies allow for online collaboration in the implementation of new models, and the very real-world organisation of social activism and relief efforts. The good news, for those within the power structure today, is that we are not about to enter a phase of revolution, but one of renaissance. We are heading not towards a toppling of the democratic, parliamentary or legislative processes, but towards their reinvention in a new, participatory context."

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