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Merkel / Obama call for greater web control

Friday, November 18, 2016 1:09
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The White House clip below is just over ten minutes long and worth careful watching. Merkel and Obama are clear that it was the internet that lost Hillary the US Presidency, the internet that caused Brexit and the internet that’s responsible for a wave of global populism. And they really don’t like it.

Obama is the more reasonable of the two, recognising that there are those “who feel left behind by globalisation”. No, Mr President, not feel but have been. And he identifies that the way in which the web allows disparities in wealth, opportunity and potential to be identified by all without establishment censorship or filtering, and across the globe, is causing the neolib world order some problems.

Merkel is less guarded, more forthright. She draws correct parallels but misses the conclusions by a sea mile.  She blames the internet explicitly for the ‘populist’ movements that threaten her hegemony, and states unequivocally that it must be controlled. She draws parallels with the effects of the invention of the printing press, and of the transition from agricultural to industrial economies as having similar ‘disruptive’ consequences, and also needed to be controlled.

And this is where she loses the insight. Both the invention of the printing press and the industrial revolution led to step changes that exponentially increased democratic power. The printing press empowered a new middle class that ended the division of society into lords and peasants, and the advent of industry provoked unassailable demands throughout Europe for greater democratic control in 1848. For sure, the incumbent authorities did all they could  to halt the advance – the grisly execution of those operating unlicensed printing presses in the 1500s, cavalry slashing at women and children with sabres at pro-democracy rallies in the 1800s. Does Merkel really want a third wave of cruel and pointless repression in a doomed effort to halt the progress of this new leap of democracy?

The real problem is that Merkel and Obama simply can’t see that they are now where the feudal lords were in the sixteenth century, where the landed gentry were in the nineteenth. And either they recognise the wave of change, of new democratic progress that ends the era of representative democracy and starts a new era of participative democracy, or they will will be swept away by it.


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