The Internet is an odd edifice, sort of a public square that only exist insofar and as long as we will it. It isn’t real in the traditional sense, it doesn’t require presence, attendance and yet it remains there, somewhere in the ephemeral ether of caffeine and insomnia fueled consciousness. We log in and out, completely unaware that we are participating in the life, death, and rebirth of society, community and democracy itself. The internet is our Zen moment and the point at which our mortality strikes with all the same force that the dawning of the nuclear age struck our predecessors. Everything. Has. Changed.
Democracy is something that we sacrifice upon the altar of necessity to the pragmatic god Federalism, and he requires an obeisance which is accomplished with the relinquishing of our right to participate. That in order to curry the favor of this new deity we must empower individuals to “represent” us while under his watchful, anything but benevolent, eyes.
The internet, though, is the wild card. It has the potential to level the playing field and revitalize the democracy that has lain dormant, generation after generation, in the hearts of the American people. One of the pitfalls, though, is a psychosomatic euphoria that a person can feel when they have engaged, however minimally, in what they feel is the modern relative to civic participation. Jodi Dean, in her book Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies: Communicative Capitalism & Left Politics, presents it this way:
Busy people can think they are active-the technology, alleviating their guilt while assuring them that nothing will change. The virtual community won’t place too many (actually any) demands on them. Its democracy is the democracy of communicative capitalism-opinions, views will be expressed, information will be accessed. By sending an email, signing a petition, responding to an article on a blog, people can feel political. And that leaves behind the time-consuming, incremental, and risky efforts of politics.
This, of course, is definitely an outcome that must be contended with. I myself write about politics and culture for my generation and those of all generations possessed of a kindred spirit. And if I thought that I was writing for people who would read the thoughts that I’ve collected together and then toss them in the cerebral waste basket and then go on their merry apathetic way…well, I probably still would waste my time, just perhaps in a more volatile and socially hostile manner.
But I tend to embrace a more optimistic view with regards to those who imbibe what scattered thoughts I litter across the internet. I like to think that, in the least, it plants a seed of optimism and a little voice that whispers, “you can make a difference, even little, solitary you.” That we who love democracy and embrace the notion of citizenship as vocation use the internet and the virtual communities that it fosters to flex and exercise our political acumen in our homes and to love our neighbors with all our civic and intellectual might. That we might raise children who take the responsibility of citizenship seriously and augur the building of communities that hold democracy dearer than the newest gadget or the most expensive clothes and utilize their collective resources to restore the power to the people in more than name only.
Because right now, we’re trudging knee-deep in shit.