Obama and the End of Politics

created: 24 Jan 2009 18:10
TAGS: internet politics

Watching Obama's inauguration, the whole world surely is aware that this is a historic event. But quite why is difficult to understand. It can't simply be the end of Bush, nor the election of a non-white to the most important job in the world. In this article I'll explain what I think is really happening, and what it means for our modern world. We have witnessed a revolution, but one that is far from over.

From the Devil's Wiki:

US "democracy" is not an intellectual exercise. Each team attempts to get the highest score, the winner gets control over the world's most powerful army and secret services for four years, and the right to steal as many dollars as they can transfer to off-shore bank accounts through fraudulent contracts with their friends' companies.

Let's start with the how. How on earth did someone with a clear and major handicap win the top job? Forget Obama's obvious assets, let's ask how a "black" man won. I'm putting that in quotes because like my kids, half European and half African, Obama is no more "black" than he is "white". As if humans were not all mongrels.

But I remember many American friends telling me that no matter how good a candidate Obama was, he could not beat the deep racial barriers that divide their country. "In Ohio, sixty percent of voters say they'll vote Democrat", one of my friends told me in August, "but only forty percent would vote for Obama."

For me, the key sign that Obama was going to win was his fund raising. Raising money needs a machine. This is the machine that propels - or mostly, fails to - individuals into high office, and keeps them there, protecting them from endless attack like an immune system.

Obama clearly stood out of the other Democrat candidates with a machine that was orders of magnitude more powerful. More powerful than the Clintons, who's machine is sixteen years' mature. Unusual and, I believe, significant.

As we saw, Obama's machine then made silly putty of the Republicans' monster, a machine that has had eight years and untold billions to grow into every branch of government: the courts, the intelligence services, the military, every single federal agency down to local school boards was (and still is) part of the Republican party machine. And Obama beat this machine like the Karate Kid carefully putting down a bully.

Charisma? McCain and Palin? A great slogan? Yes, and no. These were all part of the result but not really the point. There's a reason why there was not widespread vote fraud in 2008. Every time there was a "glitch", lawyers paid by the Democrats descended and began to take notes. Compare this to 2000 and 2004, when painfully obvious frauds stole the White House.

Not just a pretty face, Obama represents the most powerful political machine we've ever seen, any place, any time. The Democratic party puts to shame the old Russian and Chinese Communist parties, the European and Japanese fascists, and every ideology ever invented by a tinpot dictator desperate to hold onto power at any cost.

And yet I don't see the Democrats going on genocidal wars, nor in fact doing anything particularly stupid except perhaps arguing a lot over petty details, while agreeing on and executing the fundamentals with unparalleled speed, accuracy, and efficiency.

It is, in my view, the End of Politics.

In fact, Obama was not elected by the traditional Democratic party. That party wanted a Clinton, Obama was elected by the young Democrats, who represent the majority of educated Internet users with any interest in politics. And who were angry with Bush the first time, angry with him the second time, furious when Bush sided with every business and lobbyist who hates the Internet, from the old entertainment industries, old telecoms, to old software.

Note that I don't say "majority of educated US Internet users". Obama has 4M supporters on Facebook. I bet 50% of them are not Americans.

I repeat, it's the End of Politics.

In the Economics of Evil I explained how online communities use a Bad Guy to grow and prosper. Why Wikipedia exists because of, not despite, the trolls and vandals. Thus the machine that selected and then elected Obama exists thanks to eight years of Republican misrule and abuse of power that felt, and perhaps was, a small step away from a slide towards totalitarianism.

I think that Bush actually hastened the End of Politics by ten years. I've been studying the growing political power of the Internet society for some years but I had not expect to see it crystallize so soon. That eight years of anger and frustration turned into something powerful, determined, and well organized, as online communities tend to be.

Now, how does this translate into the End of Politics, and what does this imply?

The Republicans, by being extreme in their hostility to science, truth, and society, promoted the growth of the machine that would crush them. But the Republican machine is not yet dead. It has roots in local and regional politics across America, it has lots of money - stolen from the public purse through endless insider contracts - and it has time. The game is now Obama's to lose.

So Obama needs his machine and he needs to feed it, invest in it, and protect it from attack. It's not enough to give executive orders when at every level, people can subvert, sabotage, and strangle the progress he wants to make. Obama needs what he had in the elections: an army of volunteers who jump onto every problem and "solve it", as the Internet tends to solve problems like Scientology and regressive copyright.

There is, most definitely, a large and powerful section of US society that hates what Obama represents, and is determined to fight it. If it cannot fight from the top, it will fight from the bottom and sides. An insurgency, perhaps, though with different kinds of bombs. We are going to see eight years more of conflict, and this fight will be definitive. We are, I think, fighting for our very soul as a global society. On the one hand, we have the Bush doctrine of "Power exists to bully those I consider my enemies". On the other hand, we have the Obama doctrine of "We". The contrast could not be greater.

This fight is absolutely necessary, and it is obvious that the Democrats will triumph and Obama will serve his eight years in extraordinary style and accomplishing extraordinary things. If the dreaded disaster happens, and an extremist - a true terrorist, then - murders him, another person will take his place and do much the same. Because, as I explained, this is not about one man but about a massive popular movement. A movement that coordinates through the web, brings together the best, brightest, most optimistic of our society, and which has global roots.

Obama is not the first black US president. He is, however, the first Internet president, and in order to survive the next eight years he must convert every political instrument in the US, and then beyond, to a form compatible with the Internet. This means transparent, online, participatory, and honest.

The Internet knows no politics except as a response to external threats. There are no Internet political parties, no Blues and Greens. The most extreme we get is Digg vs. Fark, KDE vs. Gnome, and that ends with everyone stealing everyone else's ideas and competing like mad until it all looks fantastic, and all looks the same. On the Internet, your worst competitor is in fact your best friend.

So let's work through this again:

  • Obama has an ambitious program to reform the errors of his predecessors.
  • He will face subtle but massive resistance at all levels of government.
  • To win over this, he must bring all levels of federal government into his machine.
  • This means, bringing them online.
  • At that point, the politics will be replaced by simple work.

In fact traditional politics works by arbitraging power, like traditional banks work by arbitraging money. Both systems have been rendered obsolete by ever-cheaper information technology. The banks did not go to high-risk leveraged instruments because they were stupid. They did that because they had no choice: every traditional way of making 5% profits (above inflation) has been ground away until they cannot make more than 1%. At this point, a commercial bank has no reason to exist.

(Banks will, I suggest, become fully nationalized arms of the state, providing an essential service but without profit. This process has already started.)

As Obama begins the conversion of the old, closed, systems of political arbitrage, he will have to liberate the Internet from anything that restricts it, anything that presents a threat to it, anything that stops it growing. Because if he does not address threats to the Internet, his enemies will use them to attack his power base.

What are the threats to the Internet? We know them, of course. They are:

  • The telecoms cartels, which are strangling wireless communications.
  • The music and movie lobbyists, which are pushing for filtering and Internet policing.
  • Many governments, especially in the UK, who still see their own citizens as fundamentally dangerous.
  • The patent system, which holds weapons of mass destruction against any knowledge economy.

And so, my predictions are fairly easy. Obama will do the right thing, because he has no choice:

  • He will end the War on Terror and turn US foreign policy to peacekeeping, not war making.
  • He will address copyright and propose a reform, which will be adopted. Specifically, he will be outspoken on the obligation of businesses to license their work under "socially acceptable" licenses.
  • He will address the patent system, and propose a reform, which will be adopted. Specifically, he will be outspoken on the issue of software patents and the high cost of drugs.
  • He will explicitly promote the use of, development of, and investment in, free and open source software by the Federal government.
  • He will end the War on Drugs and stop federal prosecution of marijuana use, which many states now tolerate.
  • He will push the deployment of wired and wireless Internet to every home, with subsidies and competition.
  • He will push for reforms in education that give students more freedom through online studying.
  • He will encourage, bribe, and force, other governments to adopt similar policies.

Some of these will happen rapidly, some slowly, some only later. Much of it will be obscured by the coming traumas - unemployment, depression, deflation - so will only be visible after the fact. The impact of these reforms is impossible to overstate but when the global middle classes are finally liberated, and given full voice, the world will, I think, become a place fit for my children to grow up in.

At the end of the day, we will tip into something the opposite of the world as imagined by those who ran it for the last eight years. Their vision was of a world of monsters and Gods, of brutality and darkness, of blood and treasure for those strong enough to seize it. Obama's vision is that of every Internet community: life is scientific, truths are real, idiots are for making fun of, and good Internet connections, everywhere one is, is more important than a large car.

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