Sunday, November 29, 2020
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Democracy is no match for the global networks

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Well, Trump certainly picked the right time of year. As the days shorten into the winter darkness, the dying of the light seems richly symbolic, a metaphor for the decline of America and the West in general. Many on the conservative Right came to see Trump as the last bulwark against the grip of the overmighty woke elites, and now, barring some departing sound and fury, the networks have decreed he is gone – at least for now.

In Britain November is historically a time of conspiracy, specifically that most notorious globalist conspiracy of them all – the Gunpowder Plot. Well, Guido Fawkes, Catesby and the lads are in very good company today: ‘The Plandemic’, ‘The Great Reset’, ‘Trump wuz robbed’, ‘Big Tech censorship’ – it’s a crowded field.  Once the preserve of tinfoil-hat Cassandras raving on about Bilderberg and the New World Order, conspiracy theories are moving decidedly mainstream. Their rise is a symptom of people’s sense of unease, that they are being governed by unseen forces beyond their control.

And you know what? They are right, but the culprit is far, far more powerful than any active conspiracy could ever hope to be: it is the immense power of modern networks.

Social networks of one kind or another are in themselves not remotely sinister, being the basis for all human interaction. What has changed in recent years with the rise of the internet is the huge escalation of their power and reach on a global scale. We all now lead ‘amphibious’ lives, arguably connected more digitally than we are physically to our friends and colleagues.

Similar leaps in communication technology have, of course, happened before. However, the modern digital revolution and the death of distance is entwined with two other major trends in society – its cognitive stratification and the growth of both big government and international institutions. Constantly communicating with each other, the cognitive elite hold all the institutional citadels both nationally and globally, in the process developing a culture and values very different from the common man or woman.

The absolutely key issue to understand here is that, as groups of people interact and get to know each other, the more their decision making is guided by a subconscious understanding of and alignment with the interests of others within their peer group. The denser and more exclusive the communication becomes, the lower the network’s natural entropy: it becomes essentially self-ordering.

Networks bring with them other major advantages: decentralised agency, variability of scale and no single point of failure: thousands of independent actors can float and discuss ideas, propagate change at any level, and circumvent obstacles. In contrast, conspiracies scale extremely badly in both space and time.

That is not to say conspiracies don’t occur here and there, but they tend to be isolated and small scale, and usually rely on the pre-existence of a rich underlying network to begin with. To give an organic metaphor, the relationship of conspiracies to networks is very similar to that of mushrooms to the underlying mycelium within the forest soil. Mushrooms are small, isolated and ephemeral; the mycelium vast, interconnected and essentially eternal.

A look at supposed conspiracy theories both ancient and modern bears this out. To return to the Gunpowder Plot, in lurid Protestant imagination Catholicism and Catholics from the Pope downwards were to blame. Catholics, did after all, had their own international and exclusive network – the Church – which Protestants deeply feared. In practice, though, the plot was not the result of the active co-ordination of the Pope, the entire college of cardinals, the priesthood and the laity. Instead, it involved a tight group of no more than 12. Even then, it was discovered and foiled, and ended very badly for those who undertook it. Similarly today, there is no vast ‘Plandemic’ conspiracy, no sinister ‘Dr No’ character moving all the pieces around a giant global chessboard. It is simply impossible to arrange conspiracies on that kind of scale.

Instead of conspiracy, therefore, it is the tendency towards self-ordering of the elite networks we should worry about when it comes to policy decisions that affect us all: the ability of many independent but highly connected people to act, largely subconsciously, in a way that although not actively co-ordinated is in their collective interests.  The state is so large, and networks of the rich and powerful so dense, that no one but the very strongest of maverick leaders from outside the system, such as Donald Trump or Nigel Farage, can now effect change.  Even then, that change tends to be reverted very quickly as soon as such people leave the stage, as we in Britain know with Brexit and America may be about to find out.

Consequently, our antiquated representative system of democracy is withering on the vine.  Communicating our wishes to governments decisively only one every four or five years is simply not powerful enough to counter the huge gravitational pull of the new networks of the elites.  Very soon after being elected, governments simply stop being responsive to the people, but become very responsive to the elites. Nor are insurgent political parties and maverick leaders ultimately the answer: figures like Trump and Farage may come and go, but the global networks will ultimately remain, and to preserve our liberties we the people much be given the agency to instruct or eject governments whenever we see fit. Our system of democracy must be radically changed.

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Andrew Cadman
IT Consultant who works and lives in the UK. He is @Andrewccadmanon Parler.

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