Friday, December 24, 2010

An Objection concerning Stuttgart

Stefan Sachs

( Reached my blog by mail lg )

I cannot resist to wire a reply to this text. As a former citizen of Stuttgart, I
definitely do not share the opinion, that a well planned and democratically
legitimated project is obstructed by violent demonstrations. The gap between a
formally correct procedure and and the widespread opposition to the results by the
citizen of this town reveals in my opinion a little more about the considerable loss
of confidence in our leading classes.
The communication patterns described in this text are well known; different media
may cause a quantitative, but not a qualitative change. The "many to many" pattern
described is not necessarily related to the new phenomenon of social media. The main
difference is a quantitative; the number of persons taking part in this
communication is of course higher but the quality and the mixture of messages is not
so different, from what may have been exchanged on a middle age market or on the
campus of a university in 1968.
IMHO the impact of such communication is related to the perceived need for
directions. In stable times, where a general consensus about values in a society
exists, this kind of communication is more or less meaningless, limited to private
communication without much of a public impact. This changes as soon, as the
broadcasting protagonists loose their credibility. A typical sign for such a
situation is the visibility of the many to many pattern. This pattern uses the
available resources, from "fliegende Blätter" in the late fifteenth century to
social networks today. Typical for a campus in the seventies were the competing
messages on public pinboards, not so different from the fence of the Stuttgart
building site. The main motivation for the public, to seriously consider such
sources of information is the loss of confidence in broadcasting.
So, the real challenge for democracy is, to reestablish credibility in broadcasting
and this may be related in the inability of the individuals involved in
broadcasting, to perform just the inverse pattern (what H.M. Enzensberger once
diagnosed with hospitalism).
In Stuttgart, the credibility of the democratic decision process was definitely
impaired by deliberately false cost estimates, broken promises of politicians and
strange involvements of politicians in related real estate affairs. The planning by
the railway corporation turns out to be inferior.
Representative democracy depends on integrity of the representatives. When this
integrity is damaged, it is natural, that, other, more direct forms of democracy
become more attractive to citizens. In southern Germany, people feel some envy, when
looking at the situation in Switzerland, where direct democracy is well established
and performing astonishing well, even in such difficult times (there is definitely
no battle, any decision of the representatives can become subject of a direct
decision by the people, which restricts their power and makes a strong incentive for
compromise and transparency).
Lack of confidence in the competence and integrity of political leaders will result
in a loss of identity. But the more important task for governments is, to restore
their credibility and in Germany a viable way to do so, would be to make use of the
mechanisms for direct democracy, the german constitutions offer, instead of
vigorously fighting any attempts of participation. I could imagine, that this would
restore identification of citizens with their state.

Stefan Sachs, Lübeck, Germany (


I have read Mr Sachs contribution with interest and respect.However,I cannot see any contradiction between his passionate plaidoyer for ´´direct democracy and my misgivings about th efuture of representational democracy.

My only concern is: what will result from a system which seems to make historically given forms obsolete ?

Lars Gustafsson

Friday, December 17, 2010

THE END OF BROADCASTING Reflections on the future challenges to democracy

There are obviously sources of unrest and confusion in contemporary political life which seem to challenge not only political parties but the entire political culture of parliamentary democracy in its entirety..The citizens of Stuttgart turn a city planning project,democratically decided since years, into a battlefield of violent demonstrations. The Sweiss cantons are in these years witnessing a continuos battle between direct and representational democracy,the continuos medial presentation of the Swedish health insurance system is that of an enemy of the people, devoted to the sole purpose of humiliating and impoverishing the citizens.

Let us assume that there are what might be called patterns of communication,caracteristic of different societies and technologies; fiffering in what type and number of participients we talk about.

One individual communicates to another individual and the exchange is symmetric.(Conversation ,private correspondence,lovemaking)

One individual communicates to another individual and the exchange is asymmetric. (Poetry,literature in general,the patient to the psychoanalyst )

One individual communicates to the many and the many are supposed to listen, which makes the situation asymmetric. (Broadcasting,the public speech,sermon,totalitarian leader speaking to his subjects)

The many communicate asymmetrically to one individual.Does the asymmetric case exist ? The relation between a parlamentarian and his constituence might be an example ?

Many individuals communicate with many individuals. This is the situation,made possible by the social media. The new situation,if you prefer.

Furthercombinatorically possible cases, the reflexive variant (one to herself) and the partially empty cases seem to lack practical interest.

Obviously something is lost. Two systems of communication,one embodied by the broadcasting of the Twentieth century - one speaking to the many - and the social media of the twentyfirst - where the many speak to the many - seem to clash and to give rise to competing or even adversial forms of public life.This might be the end of broadcasting in the sense defined above,and the beginning of a new realm,the realm
of densified political communication.

A political program, carefully planned and presented by a political party or its professional advisers ,can be scrutinized,punctuated,rejected practically in minutes. The number of perspectives has multiplied immensely .The obvious problems of political parties to define their own identity is related to the existence of cyberspace.

The strong nationalistic and often - by consequence - xenophobic, tendencies in Europe and outside are often explained as a consequence of the distributional welfare state reaching the limits of its effectivity.As Jayati Ghosh of New Delhi recently remarked : the explanation does not hold for the simple reason that the nationalisms are strongest where there is no welfare whatsoever to compete about. Obviously the crisis of identity goes much deeper.Exclusion - inclusion become the more or less artificial means of restoring a lost feeling of identity.This might be the place where ”religion”so much more a political than whatever else,comes into place.
A strikingly new phenomen, the flight from investors from the modern financial instruments to pure old gold, might serve as a metaphore for this new world. There is an urge for touchable,physical presence,nearness.

The crisis of the political culture is a crisis of identity, and itcannot be solved by adding more of the same sort.Inability to handle these new need will in the longer run provoke social changes of considerable proportions. Government which cannot handle the urge for identity in the present world is lost.