The Failure of Politics in the Information Age

by William Grosso

Let's start with a simple admission: I'm against the war in Iraq. I think it's going to happen, and I think it's probably going to be a good thing, but I still think it's a bad idea (because of the 'probably' in the previous sentence).

The problem I'm running into is that I can't really explain why. There's so much information out there, and so many points of view, that to read and credibly understand it all, to truly make an informed decision, is impossibly hard. Even figuring out what should be read and understood, and what can safely be ignored as either silly or redundant, is ridiculously difficult.

Over the course of a typical week, I have maybe 2 or 3 hours to keep fully informed on world events. I don't think that's terribly different from people who lived in earlier ages had. But it's woefully inadequate in the face of the information age-- Instapundit alone produces more than 2 or 3 hours worth of reading a day (though it's a very nice site that prunes out a lot of the noise). There's more than enough stuff to read; and verifying most of it (even the "reputable sources" make many mistakes) is a gargantuan task.

This is, I think, the point of elections-- vote for someone whose judgement you trust, and then let them make the decisions. I think that was the whole point of choosing "electors" who then selected "representatives" who made decisions. You delegate the important decisions that require a lot of information and nuanced thinking to someone who's up to the task, and then you let them go do their job.

In a perverse way, representatives should be like systems administrators. You hire them, you set some goals, and then you wait and see if the mail server stays up.

But this doesn't seem to be what's happening, and it's not what's been happening for the past 20 years. That all the information about government and policy and world politics and .... is on the internet and easily available is a very good thing. But assuming that people have read and digested it all and thought through all the consequences is not. Overnight tracking polls, where I find out that uninformed people making split decisions in response to an unanticipated question now approve of policy x by a 2 to 1 margin, do not improve the quality of governance.

On the other hand, watchdogs on government are necessary. Right? DMCA, the "patriot" act II, the continued erosion of the bill of rights, these are all bad things and indicate that government cannot be trusted to simply do the right thing, and that we cannot confidently delegate the difficult decisions.

All of which is making me into a quasi-libertarian. If government is smaller, and has incredibly strict boundaries it cannot cross, then delegation begins to work again. And it's easier to make sure it doesn't transgress.

But that feels like giving up.

(as a sidenote: when people I respect for their technological edge start blending their politics into what used to be technical forums, it's not necessarily a good thing. I find Cafe Au Lait's recent political edge really jarring).

Comments on how goverment, or people's behavior, should evolve are welcome. Iraq-specific comments and flames are not.


2003-02-08 12:55:40
Politics is Trumping Technology
"when people I respect for their technological edge start blending their politics into what used to be technical forums, it's not necessarily a good thing"

unfortunately, it's a necessary thing in these times. the fact that I've lost my freedom to think what I want, share it with who I want in any way I want without being subject to invasive survilance, dentention without a laywer or outside contact, etc. has to take a priority over what bugs have been fixed in the latest release of JEdit. never mind that the economy is dying or I can't safely breath the air, drink the water or eat the food.

political, legal and social forces are impacting our lives far more than tehnology at the current time. I strong encourge everyone to inject them into all facets of their lives, including the formerly technology only forums.

yes folks, it's that bad and rapidly getting worse.

2003-02-08 13:14:15
Neither necessary nor good
My point was simple: Cafe Au Lait is a technology forum. I go there to see what's new and important in technology, from the perspective of Elliotte Harold (whom I have tremendous respect for). I frequently go there in a work context, or when thinking about technology.

You seem to be claiming that I shouldn't be thinking about technology at all. Which is fine.
I'm perfectly okay with you saying I should read Elliotte less, and other sites more.

I'm baffled, in the extreme, by the claim that, since I do read Elliotte, he should publish political material. And that I should stick around while he ignores the reason I went to his site in the first place. I'm not sure why you think that there aren't enough political sites already, or that technology sites must necessarily become political. Why can't both types of sites exist without excessive intermingling of topics?

In other words, the sentence containing "has to take a priority over" is simply a false dichotomy (presumably based on some idea of scarcity of websites).

2003-02-11 08:49:05
depends on where your heart is
My web site is about software, but I needed to provide examples. As a company, I should want to put on an opaque vanilla mask and engage in the standard inoffensive public relations BS, right? Something light, like a pet store or maybe a phone directory for a phony company, eh? I didn't. I went the other way. I instead engaged in provocative political BS.

Politics is the penultimate taboo (you'll see next week that the ultimate is next on my list). This isn't even my content, yet I've gotten static from liberals and Republicans alike. Some have even gone so far as to call me a fraud or bar me from participation in professional groups (with their own opposing political views that they insert but don't advertise). I really can't say I'm surprised. So why did I do something so indulgent and stupid?

Because I am a person, not a company, and I have no intention of hiding who I am. Because my career is only one facet of my life, and not even the most important. Because I believe in dialogue and democracy. Because the internet offers unrivaled opportunities to be open and expressive. Because I think an example should be something realistic and valuable. Because you only get one life, and if you don't produce something meaningful with your work you might as well have been playing video games.

Don't forget, big businesses in most industries actively mix politics with their work: it's called lobbying. However, their conversations go on behind closed doors, not on the internet. That's because it's shameful and self-interested. The world can change: the cluetrain manifesto doesn't just apply to commerce.

As an aside, my congress example is intended to be more about history. Eventually, I want to get into education (read: meaningful use of my work), and I thought this would be a great lesson. "Muckrackers vs. Legislators in a post-9/11 America". You know, for the kids.