Democracies under stress: state and government and popular representation – A column by Ingo Plöger

People are taking the symbols of the branches of democracy by assault. In Brazil, on January 8, we watched in astonishment the people’s storming into the three houses that symbolize the executive, legislative, and judiciary branches in Brazil, committing despoliations. Some years earlier, we witnessed the same happening in the oldest democracy in the Americas, at the Capitol. In Peru, irate hordes advance from south to north with despoliations, roadblocks, and human losses. In addition, we are perplexed as we try to understand this radicalization phenomenon in young and adult democracies around the world.

Democracies are under enormous stress and segments of the population turn to the streets to protest issues outside the democratic context, in violation of the principles of basic respect.

They are searching for causes and reasons to bring them back to the framework of legality, but the question about the cause persists.

Not long ago, I came across a text by a recently deceased Brazilian political leader, Marco Maciel, who had been a parliamentarian, governor, and vice president of the Republic, on popular representation in democracies and the new role of technological, nowadays called, digital evolution in the contemporary world. It puts both of them in a strong transition in democracies, which makes them current issues.

Contemporary democracy has empowered its citizens through technological innovations, placing in each of their hands a powerful vehicle of information, not only for their communication but also to express opinions and influence their groups and communities. While in democracies, the traditional way of informing through mass communication outlets, such as newspapers, radio, and television, among other, is regulated by law, journalism, data, and opinions, the new way of citizen empowerment, puts “individual journalism” in everyone’s hands. Facts or opinions, true or false, no matter the exponential exposure given by the networks boosted by the so-called “viralization” of the news.

“Tik Tok,” a novel device for its speed, shows the news of greater national and international circulation and personal preference selected by an Artificial Intelligence application. Preferences are strengthened and opinions that go beyond the media and institutions of political or civil representation are formed in a very short time. There is no regulation for this “popular journalism” conquered by technology, confirmed by preferences and expression of freedom of opinion and expression.

Nevertheless, what appears to be a gigantic liberation of opinions, conversely also becomes an irresponsible libertinism in the search for truth and responsibility, which can harm individual fundamental rights. Brexit and Analitica were a warning to democracies, but also the “Fake News” that resulted in irreparable damage to the reputation of people, companies, and institutions. States began to create norms and rules on social networks to try to discipline actors of collective levity. A shaky area between freedom of expression and state and government control over what constitutes “Fake News” or what has recently been called “attacks against democracy”. Is inciting violence one thing, and opposing an institution is another? The creation of institutions that determine what “fake news” is can evoke George Orwell in the formation of a “Ministry of Truth”. How close or far are we in this effort of a state controlling its citizens until a “social score” is reached, instilling more fear than confidence in human actions in your society, and where is the boundary for democracies determined?

However, as a keen observer of world trends, the DAO (Decentralized, Autonomous, Organization) by Blockchain, a community organized by its own network, empowering itself through its own governance, is encouraged by technologies. This form of organization is born as a community with rules that defines itself and gives purposes and management that become very effective. It is a quiet revolution of civil communities organizing for a purpose. They will proliferate at exponential speeds and be more or less successful due to more or less accepted governance. Many will fail but many will emerge powerful, inclusive, and active.

I sincerely think that in 5 to 10 years, the DAOs will dominate national or international matters and popular participation in our societies in a decisive way. The democratic ones will succeed; the autocratic ones will succumb to unaccepted governance. If so, the legitimate question is, what will happen to our democracies? Idealistically thinking, the form of a more direct democracy, where the citizen will be able to influence the situation and decisions with his qualified opinion, will increase. Popular representation through the traditional party system will probably no longer have the strength it has today, only those who, through a new principle of governance and perhaps adopting their own DAOs, will really be the popular forces that will govern future parliaments. Governance will be the distinction between one and the other. Perhaps even some DAOs will become parties without intending to do so, for the simple reason of their enormous representation.

If there is a bit of realism in this idealist vision, how will the transition from the current system of successive weakening of parties and the increase of extra-parliamentary oppositions be?

There will certainly be a tumultuous transition where the parties, either through legalism or through creative experience, will have much harder fights. There will be a need to build ways of respectful coexistence in democratic societies in order to maintain civility in the clash of ideas without going beyond the limits of human dignity.

In other words, the values ​​that imprint democracy, freedom, diversity, and the pursuit of the common good in the rule of good respectful coexistence will be the winners in governance. This will lead to the inevitable review of the functions that should belong to the state and the government. Taking as an example the issues of education, health, security, international relations, energy, and sustainability, these are generational issues beyond government management and require stronger long-term governance. Perhaps these issues should be regulated by the state instead of letting each newly elected government that comes in change the basic guidelines according to its ideology. In our contemporary world’s dynamics, we would have institutional security, on the one hand, and programmatic alternations in the issues of our choice on the other. The great strength will be that of democratic governance based on principles accepted by all, whether in our democracies, in the DAOs (Decentralized autonomous organizations), or in our groups of friends and family.

Ingo Ploger
Ingo Ploger
Brazilialian entrepeneur, board member, President CEAL Brazil, mentor    at CEAL | + posts

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