Sunday, February 23, 2014

Flash mob democracy

All those news stories in today's papers trumpeting the demise of Yanukovych tend to downplay one salient factor; whatever the man's shortcomings as a leader, he was in fact elected to his position in a reasonably fair election process. His premature removal from office, on the other hand, was the result of mob violence in the streets.

A not dissimilar trajectory marked the demise of Egypt's democratically elected President Morsi last July. The major difference was that in the end the street violence in Egypt was not in itself sufficient to turn the deed, and the US sponsored military had to step in to enforce "the will of the people."

In both cases we have seen the legitimacy of the democratic process trumped by the flash mob.

Both cases are victories for US based "democracy promotion" NGOs like the National Endowment for Democracy and their numerous quasi-governmental affiliates. These "NGOs" are doubly deceptive; in the first instance, they are funded virtually in their entirety by the US government, rendering the "NG" part of their labels more than a little suspect.

Secondly, when they are instrumental in the removal of democratically elected governments, it is a curious sort of "democracy" they are promoting.

The NED has for some time focussed on the uses of social media as a tool to organize opposition in the countries where it operates. It's a strategy that has now been proven effective in paralyzing the government and economy of targeted societies. What we are witnessing is the evolution of how governments are installed and maintained, an evolution driven by developments in technology.

That in itself is not new. The printing press, the telegraph, radio, television, and the internet have all impacted the evolution of the democratic process.

What seems to be new is that until the present time these technological changes served to democratize the process by which governments are installed and maintained. The process of choosing  leadership was taken away from priests and magi and hereditary leaders. It was also taken away from angry hordes mobilizing in the streets.

The process was bureaucratized and institutionalized. We've evolved something called "the rule of law," which while nowhere perfect, did insulate the process effectively from the demands of easily manipulated  street mobs. The current technology seems to be a reversal. Social media are unravelling the last five hundred years in the evolution of democracy as we know it.

One of the as-yet little-appreciated effects of this change is that by its nature, this technology is very effective in gathering a mass of disaffected individuals on a given street or in a particular square. That's the definition of "flash mob." What the technology cannot do is replace the kind of oppositional networks that grow from long term commitment to activism.

Those are the kind of networks that can effectively oppose entrenched power institutions. The overthrow of the military regime in Egypt by the Muslim Brotherhood was the result of several generations of activism undertaken at great personal risk by members of an organization that had a cogent set of core values and an agenda. The overthrow of the Morsi administration was the result of mere weeks of virulent anti-Morsi flash mob activism.

We know how that has turned out.

Will Ukraine be different? Or, when the smoke settles will we see a nation, or perhaps two nations, even less accountable than the hapless Yanukovych?

And what of other flash mob revolutions currently in play to a greater or lesser extent in Venezuela, Turkey, and Thailand, all of them well trod playgrounds for the "democracy promoters" of the NED?

Technology is facilitating a brand new world of democracy, and it's starting to look a lot like the bad old world of rule by rioting mob.

The era of flash mob democracy has arrived.

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