Sunday, May 20, 2007

This old revolution

The protagonists of the revolutions I know anything about tend to come in two general forms. First, there is a disgruntled elite that, while powerful, isn't as powerful as it would like to be (the new upper class of merchants in America in the 18th cen., the middle class in France in the 18th cen.). Second, they empower a large but previously disenfranchised group to upset the political structure that both groups perceived as deleterious.

We could even put this model in sort of socialist terms, if we were so inclined. In a given power structure, there is a group with excess social labor (labor for effecting social change) and a group with excess social capital (a new class with new wealth and aspirations). Put together excess labor and excess capital and you get growth.

Lets look at today. Some have talked about a green "revolution". Technology will "revolutionize" the way we interact with the environment. Many also talk about a kind of social revolution, reforming government to be more democratic, transformingourselves, our communities, our cities, our farms, our businesses -- everything.

Who are the actors in this revolution? Corporations and think tanks are quite active. For all the democratizing potential of Google, its still a ginormous corporation. "Going green" is not for everybody - it only works if you can afford not to eat processed and easily accessible food. And if you can afford expensive hybrid cars and renovations. And the internet is only good for civic participation for those who care to use it that way. Its easy to talk about politics on the internet if you want to , but are non-political people being drawn into civic life online? As Heather Hopkins' post (which i've cited way too many times) demonstrates, PLENTY of people using social internet tools are not voting. Is it safe to say that if they are not voting, they are not likely to be having other kinds of political influence either?

Maybe we have a disgruntled middle-to-upper-class elite, one that wants to redesign cities and cars and lifestyles. But these (we.) are the enfranchised, seeking to be more enfranchised. Is that enough to save democracy? To save the planet?

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