The Distribution of Choice provided a model for how individuals affiliate in groups within an Ecosystem of Networks. The constraint of time individuals invest in relationships determine the distribution of political, social and creative network affiliations. Memes are catalyzed and honed within creative networks, socialized within social networks and distributed by representative affiliates within political networks.
Such memes have proven to have political influence, as was the case with how weblogs are credited with bringing prominence and staying power to Trent Lott's missteps leading to his resignation. But was this just the case of blogs feeding the media as a means of political influence or something different?
Joi Ito suggests there is a new pattern of Emergent Democracy being enabled through new tools such as weblogs. He suggests that as these tools evolve they could support a higher-level order through their emergent properties to result in a model closer to direct democracy.
To put it another way, these tools may support a new form of democratic pluralism. Pluralism is government carried out by a process of bargaining and compromise between a variety of competing leadership groups. There are two kinds of pluralism in American government today:
Institutionalized Pluralism "depicts a society whose members are bound together by calculated fealty to a network of protocoalitions and a dense normative system for which bargaining is the prescribed behavior."
Individualized pluralism "one constituted of independent members who have few group or institutional loyalties and who are generally less interested in sacrificing short-run, private career goals for the longer-term benefits of bargaining."
In Going Public, Michael Gecan describes how until the 1980s the US was governed through Institutional Pluralism with political parties as the dominant mechanism of influence. Regan subverted this pattern by going public with issues when negotiation failed. When he went public with an issue, lobbying organizations mobilized public pressure to pressure congressmen with a deluge of calls, faxes and letters.
Today the US has an unconstructive balance between Institutional and Individualized Pluralism. Weakened parties reduce longer-term best interest decisions. Lobbying only is effective in highly organized groups on select issues that resonate for deep dedication and financial backing. And where lobbying groups do not achieve critical mass, decision makers rely short term polling of sentiment. The majority of the U.S. doesn't participate in the party system nor special interest groups. This lack of participation results in a disenfranchised public and ineffective government of both long and short-term issues.
If simple tools could decrease the cost of organization as well as enable a transactional norm between organizations, a new form of pluralism could arise. Emergent Pluralism depicts a society whose members who have institutional loyalties to easily formed issue groups that have direct interaction their elected representatives and the media.
Issue groups socialize issues to for a more informed and active social base without the otherwise full-time burden elected representatives carry. When a base of Issue Groups are active in lobbying and public relations it paves the way towards direct democracy. Direct democracy without means to inform the public for decisions simply will not work. Similar to the functions of the nervous system, direct democracy can work for issues that have crossed a threshold worthy of higher-level processing by the public at large.
I believe we are on a path towards Emergent Pluralism for no other reason than the tools are being developed.
One theory of political integration, a study of how groups converge and new organizational forms emerge, is neofunctionalism. It suggests that all political integration begins with technocrats working together on non-political issues. As technocrats work with each other and achieve successful cooperation, the technocrats desire higher-order cooperation. Functional spillover occurs from technocratic to economic to political and even security domains.
Neofunctionalism can be used to describe the political unification of Europe. It begins with the Marshall Plan, with technocrats from different nations working together to distribute aid and rebuild. This cooperation and dense network of international relationships led to the formation of the economic structures such as the European Monetary Union to the European Union to the Euro. Functional spillover occurred into inter-governmental EU political structures. If NATO did not expand its alliance for ascension of Eastern European nations the same would have occurred for defense.
Today techocrats of a different sort are working on standards and open source projects to construct tools of mutual interest. It seems natural to me that this base of cooperation may spillover further into increasingly political domains.
The technorati have already constructed a low-cost method for the distribution of opinion. The ecosystem of blogspace enables memes to be rapidly created and spread. If the fitness and appeal of the meme is significant it is sustained as an issue (e.g. Trent Lott). What's different about this from the mass-media is the cost, speed, diversity and sustainability. However, transforming opinion to influence still relies on a meme in blogspace to undergo a phase transition into the mass media to shape a wider base of opinion that influences decision makers. This will change as blogging goes mainstream and decision makers are influenced by a mass of blogspace.
Emergent Pluralism arises when groups form at a low cost. MoveOn is an early example of an influencing group that leverages low cost communication and collaboration. As the cost for forming issue groups falls, expect similar groups and coalitions to form around otherwise less fundable issues. Issue groups will influence decision makers by voicing opinion (in blogspace, mass media, direct appeals, activism) and as constituencies (aggregated to lobby, mobilized to vote or petition). Political leaders and lobbying organizations that develop interfaces to engage these issue groups and are responsive stand to benefit by being better informed than through pure polling and gaining constituents.
Direct democracy will never be adopted in totality because of the cost to inform citizens to make decisions is too great for specialized or mundane issues. But citizens are able to be informed about the issues that matter to them at a lower cost than ever before. Diverse issues will find new centers for organization that reshape the political landscape from a bell curve fought over by two broken parties. The ability to self-inform and self-organize will demand greater dialogue with decision makers and greater use of referendums. This all begins with the technorati building new tools and finding new ways to use them.