Two articles I read today, an opinion piece by John Pilger and an interview with Wolfgang Streeck, revealed something interesting about the two men; neither of these critics of the current order have the remotest clue about what to do now.
When pressed by Aditya Chakrabortty, this is what Streeck came up with:
The press always talks of a lack of business confidence, he says; now is the time for the voters to demonstrate a lack of public confidence.
Streeck offers a recent Occupy protest in Frankfurt as an example of the kind of action he wants to see more of:
“The authorities were scared shitless. I think more such scariness must happen. They must learn that in order to keep people quiet they need extraordinary effort.”
In the face of a crisis of capitalism, Streeck suggests that we need “more such scariness”. How a heavily armed and increasingly unaccountable state will deal with this “scariness” is left unexplained.
John Pilger is even less helpful in his piece for the Media Reform Coalition. He tells us that “the word ‘reform’ leads us down a blind alley.” He then goes on to say that:
Media courses should challenge relentlessly the myths of the so-called mainstream and offer their students, at the very least, a way of navigating through a bent system and challenging it and becoming its honourable exceptions.
What we need is not reform but a Fifth Estate, in which journalism reclaims its independence. But that’s another story. Thank you.
So, in the face of a crisis of credibility in the media, he wags his finger at media courses and then conjures up a “Fifth Estate” whose nature is left entirely mysterious. One might think that he is suggesting that we need to bring media reform into the broader context of constitutional design. This would be welcome. But since he stops there we have no idea.
Let me set out what is apparently beyond the grasp of Streeck and Pilger.
The overriding need now is for an articulate, informed and autonomous public opinion. That is, we need as a citizen body to discover our preferences and act on them. The medium term goal is to establish the assembled public as the sovereign body in society. In the short term this requires a revolution from below in order to subordinate representative institutions in civil society to the wider needs of the public.
The immediate objective is a communications platform that we own and that allows confidential communication and the sharing of collectively generated data. It will be a platform that does not seek to divide its users into economically useful categories but instead helps citizens to make common cause around a transparently developed common sense.
Such a platform is not technically unattainable but it requires that individual NGOs, political parties and other civil society groupings subordinate their own interests to the wider interests of the people that they claim to serve. A broad coalition of groups could create a competition and assemble a large judging panel to select a platform that would then be populated by an independent citizen body. This citizen body could then make clear what it thought was important, what it wanted to know more about, and how it wanted the state and other synthetic persons to behave.
To the extent that it was better than newspapers and commercial social media platforms at describing us to ourselves, this platform would become interesting and attractive to people who are currently dejected and disengaged from politics. Co-operative enterprises and small businesses could generate commercial returns that would then cover the running costs. But the Assembly is prior and will determine how these returns are generated.
Let me try to be practical. If you give money to an organization that claims to take seriously the overlapping crises of political and economic inequality, environmental collapse and endemic warfare, then ask them to publish an article by you and co-authored with me that sets out a programme for establishing the public in its collective capacity as a motive force in country’s political system.
This programme will centre on the creation of an independent platform for discussion and decision-making along the lines outlined above.
If the organization to which you belong refuses to allow the proposition a hearing we then set up a shadow organization that pushes them to accept the overriding need for democratic communications, even if it weakens their communicative grip over their existing audiences.
This programme of revolution in civil society will build the conditions for its eventual success, if enough people can bring themselves to commit the time and share what they learn with others. Most people won’t want to do it, at least at first. Maybe no one will. But if a handful start we can do far more than now seems possible. Of course, it means recognizing that representative institutions cannot be trusted as a matter of institutional design. The interests of members and the governing centre are never exactly aligned. It means growing up, in other words.
If you can afford to act independently, and can be bothered, then drop me a line. I can be found on Twitter and Facebook. But I’d rather we continued the conversation on a platform intended to serve the needs of democratic power.
I have sought for more than five years to persuade the self-described progressive institutions of the need to create democratic communicative power, to almost no avail. They will not move until they are forced to do so by a citizenry capable of self-government that will not be lured back to docility.
Time now to take the idea to the Assembly. If no Assembly exists, then perhaps we can build it together. No one we vote for, or pay a monthly subscription to, will build it for us.
(If you are too selfish and lazy to help, the least you can do is buy multiple copies of this, The Public and the Mass)