Monday, October 3, 2011

Anarchists, Lunatics, and … Politicians?

It is not an original observation that the Internet is a chaotic place.  With the ability for people to express outlandish opinions in relative anonymity, and find other like minded people who might share these opinions, we’ve seen the emergence of all sorts of new types of social structures emerge, ranging from dating sites specifically geared Ayn Rand fans, to flash mobs that come together to dance in silent unison in the London Underground.
The question is, why haven’t we seen this taken the next logical step?  Now that everybody can find their own group, no matter how unusual it may be, why don’t we see this spilling over into real world power structures?  Sure, we’ve seen some politicians start to harness the power of the web in basic ways, but where’s the real fringe candidate or party coming to power based on a collection of eccentrics bound together by an online interest?
Answer: Germany
It finally happened – not only did a group of hackers form an organization called the Chaos Computing Club (not so unusual), they then leveraged that to form a political party, which they called the “Pirate Party” just so everybody would know exactly how serious they were (a bit more unusual).  Then they went and won 8.5% of the vote in the Berlin State elections (ok, now THAT’s unusual).  Their platform is all about intellectual property: reforming patent law, strengthening individual privacy rights, and increasing the transparency of state administration.
If this happened in the US, that would give them some headlines, and maybe a few politicians would say a few empty words about being more inclusive and working to address their legitimate concerns.  And then promptly ignore them.  In Germany, their voting results were enough to give them 15 seats in the legislature – maybe not enough to take over the government, but enough make everybody sit up and take notice.
So what happens now?  Is this a one time fringe event to be recorded in the history of oddball politics?  Or does this represent a first step in a fundamental reshaping of the political map world-wide, as new voices and new power structures start to emerge?
And does this have you excited, or terrified beyond belief?  Or maybe just a little bit of both?
Whenever I see things appear to go off the rails, I reflect that some of the earliest writing we have is from Ancient Egypt, circa 2000 BC, complaining that civilization is going completely to the dogs, and everything was so much better a few decades ago.
I also remember that no matter how often they are wrong, someday the doomsayers will be right, and civilization will really come to an end.

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