If I can make one person think once more about one issue, I've done all I can. Maybe I take things too seriously...or maybe you don't take things seriously enough.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Don't Stop Believing

"The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis."
Dante Alighieri

For those of you not aware (oh, how few you are), I'm a fairly avid computer gamer. On one of my more regular online games, we ended up in a discussion about war crimes, history and the fact that 'the winner writes history'. The particular context was (as is so often the case) World War 2, and it came about due to someone using the phrase 'the good guys won'. Obviously, being the argumentative sod that I am, I contended the statement (and was backed up by a few other helpful people) on the grounds that, whichever side had won, they'd have called themselves the good guys.

That all said, my post is not actually about victor's justice. Rather, it is about what occurred later on in the discussion. I noticed that, in quick succession, a pair of comments followed one another: firstly, "democracy is a good form of government" (paraphrased); followed swiftly by "but what can I do about [insert issue here]?"

I thought this was a particularly interesting dichotomy. On the one hand, we have the confident assertion that democracy is the 'best' form of government. Leaving aside both the ambiguity of the word 'best' (which, I admit, I can't guarantee was used) and the relative merits and demerits of democracy, I decided that I was most interested by the fact that the second statement could be used by someone who believed the first statement.

Democracy can be defined in many ways, most of which depend on exactly how cynical you are. The more optimistic could call it 'rule by the people', whereas the more cynical (such as myself) could call it 'rule by mass idiocy'. Nevertheless, the core ideal of democracy is that the individual person should be able to control the actions of his government.

Now, if you subscribe to the idea that democracy is better than dictatorship, but believe you cannot change the path of your democracy, I pose to you the following question: Why have the democracy? After all, under the democracy, you can't change the decisions your ruler(s) make, so why pretend that you can? At least, in a dictatorship, the dictator has no leg to stand on if he makes an error: the decision was always his. In a democracy, it is quite possible for errors to be blamed as much on the people as they are on the leader, despite the ridiculousness of such a situation.

For democracy to be anything other than dictatorship by another name, it requires those who are part of the democracy to participate. When I say participate, I do not simply mean vote: I mean that those in the democracy must actively engage in the political process. They must form their own opinions and beliefs, and act accordingly. If the electorate does not do this, then the democracy is nothing more than dictatorship by collective assent.

So, to any of you out there who value your Western ideals of 'freedom' and 'democracy', but just vote Labour because your dad does, or don't vote because you're lazy, or just in general fail to interact with the world in a political fashion: it's time for you to decide. Do you want to be politically active, and keep your democracy? Or would you rather just lie there on your sofa? Either way, you need to decide.

Opinions? As usual, let me know.


NB: The above does not mean I exclude the idea of an 'abstinent vote'. What I exclude is the idea that people should vote (or not vote) without thinking. I believe that not voting can be a valid expression of your democratic rights: it says that you believe that none of the candidates is good for the country, and refuse to settle for 'the lesser evil'. At least you took the time to form your opinion.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

All Along The Watchtower

Hello again. Excuse the extremely long absence: I've always been a fairly flighty character, and as a result I've taken what could be considered an 'extended unannounced leave of absence' from blogging. All of that said, a comment by a friend at a party has caused me to get back into the whole thing, and so the few of you still paying any attention to it will get the dubious pleasure of reading my craziness once again.

Let's launch straight into it: what is it about internet communities that are so appealing to people? I'd love to say that I've been pondering this issue for days, but frankly, it has only recently occurred to me as a question thanks to Shamus Young at Twenty Sided. That said, after watching the long video (embedded at the end), it had raised some very important questions.

It has always been an important part of my 'knowledge' regarding self that Human Beings are inherently social creatures. This is not to say that we are collectivist, like ants, but that we rely on our social support structures. We are not truly Human Beings without the important and complicated frameworks of modern society. Humanity is more than simply a body. Don't assume that I subscribe to some notion of the 'soul': instead, I refer to the Terry Pratchett idea of human beings requiring stories to remain human. In his words, Humanity is where "the falling angel meets the rising ape", and he has something of a point.

The problem increasingly comes in a modern society with so much interconnectedness that the individual is increasingly being eroded. Simply using Google allows you to potentially find out an awful lot about a single person, and the more skilled you are at using it, the more you can find out. In a world like this, what does the word 'privacy' mean? After all, using what you find out on the internet, you could quite conceivably find out more that isn't strictly within the public domain.

On the other hand, the internet community provides a different kind of privacy: privacy by numbers. While a person isn't strictly anonymous, it is a challenge to pick one person out of a crowd. And the internet is the biggest crowd ever gathered: hundreds of millions of people all using the same tools, for different ends. This presents one of the greatest defenses against intrusion into your privacy: probability. It's impossible to watch everyone, so you may not be being watched.

Anyway, my task for you, readers is simple. I want you to watch the video, and I want you to decide what you think, both of YouTube, and of online communities in general. And then I want you to hit the comment button, and tell me.