20 December 2011 by Paul Dempsey
The 'heroes' of Egypt's Tahrir Square used texts, tweets, blogs and more to foment revolution and oust a corrupt leader. But in the country's recent elections, more traditional parties prevailed. Even though The Muslim Brotherhood also opposed (and was oppressed by) the Mubarak regime, it stood at one remove from this year's protests yet has emerged a winner at the ballot box.
Meanwhile the Spanish 'Indignados' who borrowed from the Egyptians also found that while they could use both protest camps and online tools to build popular support, their country recently voted in a government that is likely to be still less open to any dialogue than that they originally attacked. In their case, the Indignados recommended that voters abstain, thereby handing the ruling Socialist Party an even bigger thumping from the 'Conservative' Popular Party than was already expected.
Part of the issue is that these were young protests (in every sense) that quickly came up against more established forces on existing political battlegrounds. Another comes down to the old notion that it is easier to break something down than it is to create. But the value of politics' shiny new e-tools also stands exposed.
A repeated criticism of the US Occupy movement has been that it "doesn't stand for anything". I'm not sure the point is entirely valid. You can equally say that as a new grouping, it is still putting things into its ideological shopping bag and would be wise to keep it open for as long as it can to have the makings of as broad a platform as it can.
However, it remains true that even after all these months, after all the media coverage and after gaining sympathy because of some remarkably cack-handed policing, most Americans in the mainstream still struggle to understand what Occupy represents (never mind how it can represent them as part of 'the 99%') beyond its directed anger towards Wall Street's egregious avarice.
With the sad death of Velvet Revolution figurehead Václav Havel last weekend, an inevitable comparison occurs. He was a dissident who expressed his perceptions and his philosophy through a remarkable canon of plays, essays and books produced over a period of 25 years before he saw democracy begin to emerge in the former Czechoslovakia. His influence also spread through the Iron Curtain. Along with another Czech writer, the Paris-based exile Milan Kundera, Havel was both a literary and ideological hero of my own youth.
This does not imply that any new thinking needs a quarter of a century to get a hearing. Unlike the young Havel, almost all of us live in democracies. However, I do think his ability to articulate positions in depth was important and, again, this is where the Internet and social media today fall flat.
I'm sure the brilliant comedian Stewart Lee could get a nice slab of suitably withering material from the notion, "Build a valid political ideology in 140 characters or less". So - and this comparison will get me into trouble - could David Cameron. But does either really need to? Go on, imagine. "Forward with Facebook". "Linked In to Victory".
The Internet, as we currently use it, remains an essentially reductive medium. Given its foundations in academia, that's full of ironies in itself. Even a 'sophisticated' blog post - the kind of thing that when commissioned in that way makes me think of pineapple and cheddar on a cocktail stick - is not supposed to exceed 500 words. Because you, dear reader, will go no further. You are a bunch of attention-span-challenged amoeba (given that we're now at 575 words, I can safely chuck out that insult in the knowledge that, indeed, no-one will see it).
There are exceptions. E-readers are once again providing opportunities for essayists (something another recent sad loss, that thrillingly robust polemicist Christopher Hitchens, was just beginning to explore). But as the discussion about politics and the Internet once more heats up - and it will because the US is about to enter a presidential year - the question of 'depth' is worth posing.
Coming back to Occupy, some within the group are asking themselves that right now. The movement has been forced into something just short of hibernation over the winter but it does still have its network, the online tools the various camps built to support their physical efforts. So, if you don't want to be washed over like similar movements abroad, what do you do - do you use this time to build out and flesh out that platform?
As a famous US political campaign once wondered, "Where's the beef?" Well, if you have made it this far, there may be cause for hope. Maybe.
Edited: 20 December 2011 at 04:14 PM by Paul Dempsey
Posted By: Paul Dempsey @ 20 December 2011 03:03 PM General
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