On Electronic Democracy [cr-95/11/20]


Sender: "G.S. Aikens" <•••@••.•••>

Dear Cyber-rights,

I have been following the debates on electronic democracy with great

By way of background, I was involved in the MN E-Democracy Project during
the 1994 election season, organizing and hosting the E-Debates for the
Project. We provided a great deal of candidate information.  But more
importantly we hosted a political debate between the candidates for the
United States Senate and a debate for the candidates for the Governorship
of the State of Minnesota.  These debates were forwarded into an open
subscription open submission public discussion forum.  I have termed the
resulting conversation among citizen-participants democratic dialogue.
This democratic dialogue is, in fact, the major conception to emerge from
the Project and my research on the reactions of the participants in the
Project.   If I may be so bold, I would like to conclude this summary
by arguing that we created perhaps the first functional electronic town
hall in American history.  For more on this please visit MN E-Democracy
under the government and politics section of the Twin Cities Freenet.

First, I tend to agree with the comments of Mark Stahlman on the dangers of
hyper-democracy.  In fact, such a critique puts me in mind of Abramson
and Arterton's The Electronic Common wealth in which they argued that new
communications technologies could either contribute to the "quickening of
democracy" or the "slowing of democracy".  The quickening of democracy or
hyperdemocracy is democracy by public opinion poll or plebiscite and, one
could argue, puts our political system in danger of losing any right to
call itself a democracy at all.  The slowing of democracy emphasizes
deliberation at the local level and is, on my analysis, the path to
ensure the continuation of a democratic process of decision making into
the 21st Century.

Second, I am sympathetic to Marilyn Davis and her e-Vote to the extent that
she is attempting to create a deliberative forum.  However, I think the
emphasis on the vote as opposed to an emphasis on deliberation is, quite
frankly, to play into the hands of interests that do not take the
perpetuation of a democratic procedure for decision-making to heart.  I
agree with her goal of encouraging deliberation but, I must ask, does she
find something wrong with the representative system we have had for over 200
years?  Isn't there already a place in this system for the vote on
the day of elections?  Why then does she believe we need to vote and take
polls amongst ourselves in the days proceeding elections?  Aren't the
polls to give guidance to the candidates?  Isn't the vote the
singular expression of the people's will?  Why then do the people need polls
and votes?  Don't the people simply need a guaranteed opportunity to express
their voice in the democratic process during the election season?  Or is Ms.
Davis proposing that we do away with the representative system?  If she is
doing that I would like to register my strong disagreement with the

If I understand the situation correctly, my primary disagreement with Ms.
Davis is over whether history has anything valuable to offer or not.  When
she writes, "History has shown us nothing good" such luminaries as Benjamin
Constant, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexis de Tocqueville, John Stuart
Mill, John Dewey, Mohandas Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and
Itzhak Rabin jump into my head.  What is it these men were trying to
construct and put into practice?  What is it these men devoted their lives
to?  To say history shows us nothing good is to throw away the work of those
who have tried to think through and implement procedures that support values
such as liberty, equality, justice, and autonomy in a stable social order.
I'd like to suggest that to say there is nothing good in this history and to
insist that we need to throw out the past and rush into a utopian future
based upon contemporary American communications research, the Quakers, and
the Cuna Indians is rash.

In thinking about electronic democracy right now I simply suggest that we
focus on how new communications technologies can help us fight for the
continuation and betterment of something that has worked pretty darn well
for quite a while.  To do this perhaps we need look both sympathetically
and critically at the work of our fore-bares and understand what they were
saying and then figure out how to apply these wonderous new technologies to
construct a modern interpretation.


G Scott Aikens

Tel:    01223-571-170
E-Mail: •••@••.•••
WWW:    http://www.dar.cam.ac.uk/www/gsa1001.htm

 Posted by Andrew Oram  - •••@••.••• - Moderator: CYBER-RIGHTS (CPSR)
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