Digital Democracy?

[A version of this text was published in Socialist Register 2018 ed. Leo Panitch and Greg Albo]

DIGITAL DEMOCRACY?

NINA POWER

We stand on the cusp of enormous change, both politically and technologically, and the two can hardly be separated at this point. To speak from the situation in the United Kingdom at the moment is to recognize a series of sea changes and tendencies that will, and have already, changed much about contemporary life for millions. We need to be wary of both political and technological determinism here – the recent surprising hung parliament in Britain which saw the Conservative government drop more than twenty points in the polls on the back of a terrible election campaign and massive Labour activism shows that politics remains unpredictable, even when austerity and despair have become internalized. Technology’s future too remains uncertain, even as it is integrated more and more into the everyday lives of millions to greater or lesser degrees. We cannot begin to discuss the relationship between technology and politics, however, without acknowledging from the outset the fundamental asymmetries in its distribution in the modern world, or without a series of major caveats. As many feminist writers have pointed out, technology cannot be considered as neutrally or inevitably ‘progressive’. Cynthia Cockburn put it like this more than thirty years ago:

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Cancelled

What you really just want to say is – you cannot be friends with this person.

Why can you not be friends with this person?

Because ‘we’ have cancelled them already – didn’t you get the memo! – because we – this fragile cobweb called something like ‘the left’ or ‘the artworld’ or ‘antifa’ or just ‘people we know and like… and not these other people we either don’t know and don’t like, or do know and don’t like, or once knew and liked and now don’t like’. The ‘we’ that has decided in favour of rumours and anonymous accusations and allegations, that has decided a lie is easier to believe than than truth, which is always more complicated.

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