Technology and the new democracy

The time has come to take a stand, to say calmly and firmly that humanity cannot continue to subject itself to the interminable throes of a system that has resulted in the current grave and multi-faceted (social, financial, food, environmental, political, democratic, ethical) crisis. The fact that modern information technology now allows for remote participation also makes possible the transition from an economy of speculation and war to an economy of sustainable global development.

The time for silence is over. From now on, keeping silent is a crime. The powerful, who have always scared off the more daring citizens from speaking out, have never had to deal with ‘virtual revolution.’ Remote participation (whether by mobile phone, Internet, or SMS) will change the current rules and guidelines for elections and for receiving feedback from voters -in other words, for democracy.

The time has come for a citizens’ mobilisation against the giant system of domination -economic, military, and media- in order to immediately begin the process of moving away from the war-and-speculation economy (four billion dollars a day spent on weapons and military expenses at the same time, I never tire of pointing out, 70,000 people die from hunger) towards a globally-sustainable economy that rapidly shrinks the enormous social asymmetries and ills and the progressive deterioration of the environment, which might become irreversible.

The time has come to prohibit and punish the abuses that the ‘market,’ through the famous ‘ratings’ agencies, rains on politicians, impoverished ‘rescuers’ who, at the risk of financial ruin, must seek to cut their budgets. Those who chanted less government and more market while assuring the world that the market will regulate itself and that tax shelters would be eliminated, must publicly rectify the grave errors that have occurred.

The moment has come to replace the plutocratic cliques that were given power by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and have demonstrated their complete ineffectiveness with a strong United Nations provided with the personnel and the financial and technical resources it needs to carry out its mission of providing international security, defending democratic principles,  the freedom of expression, and access to quality information, taking coordinated action to reduce the impact of natural and man-made disasters, monitoring the environment, and promptly implementing social and economic goals.

We should all read and reread the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to feel the comfort it should provide and awaken in ourselves the conviction that it is still worth fighting for these great ethical values that should guide our everyday behaviour. Thus we can recognise that reason is on our side in resisting the temptation to use force.

Active reading

Such an active reading is necessary because we are not correcting our course. There is no clear movement from plutocracy to multilateralism. No action is being taken to once and for all eliminate tax shelters, which are making possible every kind of trafficking, in drugs, arms, and people. Nothing is being done to regulate speculation or other irresponsible economic practices, or to fight the excessive concentration of the media.

There is no movement towards a new model of production based on globally sustainable practices. As was the case before the crisis,  all that is important today is dealing, selling, and producing for the lowest possible price by shifting production eastwards without any understanding of how the ‘producers’ live in these countries or what their human rights situation is. It's more of the same, in short, as society remains silent, looking the other way.

Public institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank as well as private institutions of dubious impartiality, though they were incapable of either predicting or preventing the crisis, are acting in the interests of those who caused it.

And what about the artists, scientists, and academics? They too just look on. In general, they are distracted spectators who pay too little attention to the big problems and so fail to act in response. They still don't see the immense power of civil society.

 One day, after years of fragile, manipulative democracy, modern communications technology ushers in the possibility of building in cyberspace that which had previously existed only in real life. Many things must be conserved, yet many other things must change. And we will have to be daring. 

(The writer is a former director-general of UNESCO)

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