CARACAS, Wednesday April 01, 2009 | Update
The Nintendo generation that thinks in bytes and megabytes; uses the Blackberry, and is able to master even genetics to forecast the behavior of the human kind, put an end to the Homo sapiens. Such generation, on its way on the information highway, has removed geographical boundaries and their political byproducts
Photo: Freddy Henriquez
More than a decade ago, I was shocked by a reflection by Alain Touraine. He said, more or less, that the democratic society is the victim of its own strength. I construed it as the challenge faced by democracy as a way of government to change according to the human life and spiritual level. Indeed, besides a state turned into homeland and national affiliations, the modern man has his own identity and features, that is, he is aware of his dignity as a human being.
For that reason, I barely understood the serious and out-of-context conclusion of the Caputo Report. Reference is made to a study prepared by the United Nations Development Program in 2004. On the status of democracy in Latin America, the report warned that most people would rather have social rights, to such an extent that they do not mind to waive democratic fundamental rights, that is, civil and political rights.
Both visions agree on timing -the state and its institutions should urgently meet the requirements for social and economic inclusiveness, particularly the feeling of ownership, of the majority -victim of indifference- which lagged behind during the period of modernization of our nations. But both of them are different. The former suggested that the individual should take control of his own destiny and be accountable for his freedom to him and his fellow members of the society. The latter called for a state higher profile. That is, to deepen the collective historical tutorship. But both views, if taken to their extremes, could combine to form a harmful view, able to legitimate another situation about the time of anti-politics. It is the assumption of those who claim that the delay to address the social issue -as suggested by Caputo- is the politicians' fault. And since politicians are members of parties, both politicians and parties are going through their worst time.
The outcome was immediate. The misunderstanding of Touraine's view, who labeled as positive citizens' maturity and autonomy when realizing their own citizenship, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the mistaken conclusion of the UNDP report, which almost bet on the demise of democracy and praised the actions of a strong state, legitimate the current trends and governments which make headway with the practice of populism, paternalism and individualism. These are the same governments that, again, reject the control of republican institutions; deny the checks and balances that used to be sought, and disregard "democracy as the politics of recognizing others." (Charles Taylor, The politics of recognition, Princeton University Press, 1992).
Certainly, two different, very complex realities run like a wild river trying to find a basin able to express and contain them. Such realities go beyond the reductionist criteria of anti-politics or devaluation of democracy. The modern civil and military watchmen start from these premises to substantiate or get back to dictatorial or totalitarian governments, the vanished "flag homelands" -as Miguel de Unamuno called them.
Let me elaborate on this. The current reality we do not quite understand shows the end of an ancient stage. It started more than 40,000 years ago, when the Homo sapiens mastered the matter and space; manufactured tools and weapons, and depicted the objective world by means of arts and rituals. All of this was the first source of his power and the community foundations. At that time, accumulation was the prelude of the forms of social and political organization, resulting in ideologies thousand years later. Not by chance, the nation-state emerged under patrimonial and spatial criteria, and as the most finished and abstract expression of society and political order and relations that date from the beginning of humankind and human culture.
All of a sudden, however, by virtue of the man's mind and after eating from the Tree of Knowledge, the time of space and matter was superseded by virtual reality and timelessness. The time of men's exploitation, because of material accumulation, resulted in the time of exploitation by man of time and speed.
The Nintendo generation that thinks in bytes and megabytes; uses the Blackberry, and is able to master even genetics to forecast the behavior of the human kind, put an end to the Homo sapiens. Such generation, on its way on the information highway, has removed geographical boundaries and their political byproducts; shaped a world in the absence of them, and made room for artificial intelligence. The state and its traditional driving belts -public branches, capitalist or Marxist political parties- are unable to solve on their own -with their old attributes- the new items in the global agenda, inherent in the current digital society. And inside each state, its own makers -that is, citizens- view it as sort of slow pachyderm, unable to meet, or oblivious to, ordinary people's fundamental needs.
Therefore, a large number of people daily break with their national ties and travel through the data transmission networks to overcome their wants. Others, worried about the wild change of life patterns and deprived of their known citizen's security, go to small "belfry homelands," that is, primitive or grassroots forms of association dominated by ethnic, race, religious, cultural or neighborhood components.
Seriously, "global citizens" thrive culturally unified and alien to diversity, under the umbrella of virtual reality. For their part, the multi-cultural children take an exclusive stance, under a fundamentalist view of the cosmos. They fail to recognize each other. No matter that they preach their democratic convictions; they are apostate.
Democracy is facing a crisis inside democracy. Its tools or components do not work any more for being tied to an unsuccessful political organization -an impersonal, centralized and omnipotent state. This was the case of medieval republics or domains. As a result, at the present time, it is a shell occupied by ventriloquists, where trade of illusions or social chaos has found a niche. Venezuela is an emblem.
We wonder if the classic standards of democracy are still effective. How will we reassert the universal character of human rights -a key element of representative democracy, according to the Inter-American Democratic Charter- given the relativity inherent in cross culture?
What will be the extent of the rule of law with regard to equal legal treatment under the present circumstances, where sites and small towns are willing to be legally acknowledged and regulated as to their right to be different?
Where will remain the universal vote, the original way for the people to exercise their sovereignty, subject to the discretion of a digital aristocracy?
What about political parties and organizations? How will they manage to be consistent with horizontal, non-governmental associations or grassroots movements, which include ordinary interests and opt for the collective, even for policy making?
How will the historical and substantive requirement for the public power severability and functional independence, needed for the institutional balance and to ensure human rights, effectively and promptly help governance at a changing time that passes quickly; requires compelling decisions, and it is far away from the pace of palaces and sacramental forms of law?
As for the most fundamental requirement, that is, democratic transparency, which is a must in the current information society, perhaps should it be considered -as suggested by Javier Roiz, a lecturer with Tarragona University- that intensive information is as unviable as censorship, filters and secret? Should it be considered that it could mislead all of us, and most seriously, abate our human privacy?
Undoubtedly, rather than a simple political way of government, democracy forms part of the human being. But its newest categories depend on a positive answer to the previous questions and to nowadays' reality.
Author of "The right to democracy"
Translated by Conchita Delgado
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