As I write while reflecting on the Islands Forum 2012 conference I just attended in Singapore, reserving the right to revise and extend my remarks, there are two grand strategic challenges with which ‘Democracy’ is confronted.
First, the personalization of the bubble or the ‘multi-verse,’ in which people seek only that information that reaffirms pre-existing belief sets. This is further exacerbated by the invisible, stalking algorithms that tailor & package the content that one’s individual searches seek (Eli Pariser: Beware online “filter bubbles”). Augmenting this grand challenge is the absence of the perceived unbiased mediator, telling/informing the body politic of information and providing content on subjects about which they should be informed, whether they are interested or not — the front page, if you will.
The second grand challenge is the emergence of a new form of democracy, which I call ‘participatory democracy,’ in which citizens, particularly young ones, seek a say and a dialogue with their respective governments regarding the choices and challenges with which their nation is confronted as it looks to the future and grapples with the present. Most governments, as we heard in Singapore, are ill-prepared to deal with this emergence, which I believe will affect every country, over time.
Think of a global tectonic shift. Governments for the most part are rooted in monologue, predicated on a foundation of control, while the ‘new normal’ is rooted in dialogue and predicated on community. After centuries of practicing ‘Statecraft‘ with aligned, adversarial, and neutral parties, governments are now in desperate need of tactics, tools, and procedures for ‘Streetcraft.’
There remains time, although not that much, for many countries to design the change they are about to undergo, in order to minimize the disruption, thereby reducing the likelihood of devolution. Those countries that choose to ignore the opportunity of design, will be, I fear, doomed to a potential of violent disruption and a long slow period of destabilization. Time will tell and so shall we.