Joe Costello: What 21st-Century Democracy Looks Like
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What's really so amazing about this era, all this new technology both allows and really calls for much greater participation. The creating, communication, editing, and decision-making of this gigantic tsunami of information better associates itself with the citizen, as opposed to the producer/consumer model.
So, I'd say democratizing decision-making is the first and foremost element of 21st-century political reform, which means we have to revalue many things, most importantly we have to give value to being a citizen, and just as importantly understand a citizen is defined through association.
LP: With a corrupt political system, how can citizens meaningfully engage in politics and policy-making?
JC: They need to create processes and associations outside of the established system, and then confront it. The first two steps to organizing -- and political organizing is a lost art in America -- are education and conversation. Let's start there. And don't in any way underestimate this, because without these first two steps, nothing else will be accomplished. And I think the first place to confront established politics is at the local level, city and county, understanding these are important elements of the American system in place, but needing revitalization.
LP: You speak of the next era of our economic development as the “design economy.” What does that term mean and how do we prepare for this coming stage?
JC: Since those alive today know nothing else, we underestimate what a revolutionary force industrialization has been in human history, outside of the agrarian revolution of 10,000 years ago, nothing has come close to altering the world in which we live. The industrial era overthrew political, cultural and economic institutions that had been around for millenia. At its foundation, this was a technological revolution derived from the scientific revolutions of the two preceding centuries, and based primarily on our ability to massively burn fossil fuels and steel production.
Then we had the whole new scientific revolutions of the 20th century, specifically quantum physics and the tremendous additions to knowledge of biological sciences, (which are still little understood, I should add). Of course, we got the technologies of nuclear bombs, the networked-microprocessor, and all this growing genetic manipulation. If we keep valuing things based on industrial values, well let's just say nothing much is going to last much longer.
This new technology, for lack of a better word, is “information”-based. The manipulation of information actually fits much better with the role of citizen than it does with either the role of the producer or consumer. Information creation, communication, editing, decision-making are all things for which we need to create new political, cultural, and economic values, and new institutions and processes. Instead of mass-producing and mass-consuming, we are actually creating the values of design for shaping our lives, our society. Design, like politics, isn't a product, it's a process, it's alive.
LP: You mention the watchwords of the “design economy” as the values of “participation, efficiency, elegance, and enough.” Wasn’t the focus on efficiency one of the things that got us into trouble in the previous era? I’m thinking, for example, of the technocrats who promoted ghastly inhumanity in factories in the name of this goal. Why deploy this term as a watchword for the future?
JC: Yeah, that's a problem with vocabulary, and I suppose, history. I'm not talking about a new Taylorism, where it became a science to figure out how to most effectively squeeze the last drop of blood out of labor. I'm speaking about a revaluing. Present value is based on production/consumption. It's the values of industrialism, where it's always considered best if we produce and consume more. It's also tremendously manipulative.