Information Consumerism : The Price of Hypocrisy

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A much more dangerous threat to democracy than the NSA

The Pirates’s tragic miscalculation was trying to do too much: they wanted to change both the process of politics and its content. That project was so ambitious that it was doomed to failure from the very beginning. Besides, the political usefulness of changing the process – whether it was a push towards greater participation or more transparency over legislative meetings – should itself be in question; whatever reforms the Pirates have been advancing did not seem to stem from some long critical reflections of the pitfalls of the current political system but, rather, from their belief that the political system, incompatible with the most successful digital platforms from Wikipedia to Facebook, must be reshaped in their image. This was – and is – nonsense. A parliament is, in fact, different from Wikipedia – but the success of the latter tells us absolutely nothing about the viability of the Wikipedia model as a template for remodeling our political institutions (and let us not beat around the bush: they are far from perfect, these parliaments, as the financial crisis has indicated). But the good thing that did come out of the Pirates was the nudge to get everyone else thinking about digital matters and their impact on the future of democracy. This is the content – rather than the process – part. That project must continue but, perhaps, be reoriented from pursuing the faux goal of “Internet freedom” to thinking about preserving real freedoms instead.

In as much as the Snowden affair has forced us to confront these issues, it’s been a good thing for democracy. Let’s face it: most of us would rather not think about the ethical implications of smart toothbrushes or the hypocrisy involved in Western rhetoric towards Iran or the genuflection that more and more European leaders show in front of Silicon Valley and its awful, brain-damaging language, the Siliconese. The least we can do is to acknowledge that the crisis is much deeper and that it stems from intellectual causes as much as from legal ones. Information consumerism, like its older sibling energy consumerism, is a much more dangerous threat to democracy than the NSA.

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