For the Week of July 31, 2006
Most politics is transactional.
But once in a generation, a Crisis emerges requiring a Transformation. (For a review of terms to be used here, click here.)
The Crisis cannot be answered by either the existing Political Thesis, or its Anti-Thesis. The Myths and Values of the past lack the vocabulary to address the new Crisis.
So a new Thesis is needed, a belief structure that will address the Crisis, and which will be held, or opposed, until the old generation dies or a new Crisis emerges.
This has happened throughout America's history, at regular (and lengthening) intervals
because we live longer and age more slowly:
- The 1776 Myth of our Origins held until political factions could not stay together.
- The 1800 Myth of Jefferson, stout yeomen and Young America, held until a new America emerged.
- The 1828 Myth of Jackson, of the West balancing North and South, held until the divisions of slavery became too great to bridge.
- The 1860 Myth of Lincoln, of Union, and of the Gilded Age, held until farmers and workers rebelled.
- The 1896 Myth of Teddy Roosevelt, of Progressivism and Republican regulars, held until the Great Depression.
- The 1932 Myth of FDR, of liberal experimentation, held until the 1960s.
- The 1968 Myth of Nixon, of conflict, enemies within and without, is what we live under today.
In 2004, Democrats deliberately walked into this Thesis, nominating a candidate of the Anti-Thesis, John Kerry against GW Bush. Bush had already proven to be a leader of Excess, following his Thesis past its logical conclusion, yet the knees jerked, because we age so slowly. We still remembered the old battles, and responded to the old war cries.
But now a new Crisis has emerged. It can't be answered by the current Thesis. It can't be answered by the Anti-Thesis, best represented by Clinton's Third Way.
The new inspiration exists today, right in front of you. Like the old Palmolive ad says, you're soaking in it.
It's the Internet.
The medium you're using right now carries with it powerful Myths, and Values, on which a new future can be based. We see them emerge whenever issues of importance to the Internet emerge. When the Web was threatened with campaign finance regulation, left and right united. In the net neutrality fight, left and right are united.
What are these Values?
- Openness - you can reach any site, and use the software you choose on the Internet.
- Transparency - We are what we are, and secrecy is an enemy of progress.
- Consensus - Progress starts with agreement.
Notice that these are optimistic values, liberating values. They're the values of 1776, and of 1860, and of 1932. A generation moves toward pessimism, and the next must move it the other way.
What story or Myth can we tell that puts these values into action and shows us how solutions can happen?
The story of the Internet itself holds the answer. The concept of the Web came from practically nowhere, a single scientist working at CERN in Switzerland. The Web itself is transparent, easy to navigate, everything just a few clicks away. And the standards themselves change through consensus, through broad agreements among companies, among people, among countries.
This is reflected best in the Open Source movement. Open Source encompasses a wide array of actors, from leftist idealists such as Richard Stallman to hard-edged capitalists like Jonathan Schwartz, CEO of Sun Microsystems. A wide variety of business models comfortably coexist. Progress is achieved through consensus. The more transparent a project, the more open to the community, the faster it can make change happen.
Google. Wikipedia. Open Office. A new world of software and services have been created. It's the greatest expansion in "the commons" we've seen in generations. Click away. I have friends in India, in South Africa, in Japan and Germany and Pakistan and Australia, in England and in dozens of other countries, and while we disagree about a lot there's consensus here on the Internet's Values, and on the Open Source Myth.
Here is the source, the wellspring, the new Political Thesis we've been looking for. Right under our noses.
What can we do with it? We can organize, we can learn, we can teach, we can listen to one another, we can find agreements. We do it every day. We do it at work, we do it from school, we do it from our homes, we do it in our underwear, and if we want we can even do it in the road.
But what does this teach us? What is Open Source Politics pointing us to?
- The wealth of nations is human capital. Our skills, our knowledge, our creativity are what make wealth.
- Networks are how we get this wealth to market. They are our ports, our highways, our railroads.
- Institutions should try and mirror the Internet's Values of transparency, openness and consensus.
OK. But what about the problems that face us now?
Wars over oil and other resources are not worth the trouble.
The solution to our energy and environmental problems is the same.
Politicians should start with what they agree on, and work to broaden that, rather than starting with disagreements and hammering each other over the head with them.
A simple manifesto, yes. But a practical one. The work of implementing this will take a generation, but that's the idea.
Oh, and this is not just an American idea. This is a worldwide phenomenon. The nations growing fastest - China, India, Brazil - they are growing fastest in terms of the Internet and of open source. The ideals I'm talking about are held in common by thinkers of many, many nations, once they look up from their local squabbles. And those nations which aren't embracing these values? Those are the nations that are failing.
And who might be the first Open Source President?
Well, Nixon lost narrowly, in a disputed election, and even wrote his own political obituary. But that's a detail we can thresh out in time. Lincoln lost two years before his election.
And what makes me so smart? How am I qualified to bullshit on such vital topics? I'm a journalist, it's my job. I've also spent 23 years covering this medium, full-time. My first business card read "Have Modem, Will Travel."
Besides, you just finished reading this. Remember, ideas can come from anywhere.
I have made a big decision. I have moved my main blog, formerly called Mooreslore, to danablankenhorn.com under the name Dana Blankenhorn. (Hey, that's MY name.) The blog is written in Typepad and is also available at 200billionscandal.typepad.com
I'm continuing to produce a special blog on Open Sourcefor ZDNet. I am pleased to say it has grown into a real money-maker. I work as a freelance writer in Atlanta, and am on the development team for Voic.Us, which aims to become a political "super-site" and offer mobile marketing services. Please visit that blog as well.
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ZDNet Open Source
Clued-in is William Hurley. Now if you've got a blog, Bill, blog.
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