postmodern politics

What is Postmodern Politics

"Be passionately aware that you could be completely wrong." Toronto activist Dian Marino, author of Wild Garden: Art, Education and the Culture of Resistance

Postmodern Politics as a term was first used (in this sense) by Kate Holloway to describe how a certain political party was being affected in early 2005 by the adoption of a wiki engine to power its policy development.

At the time, the party was going through a difficult phase in its growth from a seat of the pants non-funded, non-heirarchical orgainzation to . . . something else. There were two views on how the party should develop and one, which was pushed by the leader, was to basically imitate what other parties do, impose a strict hierarchy (where the leader is ultimately the boss) etc. etc.

Another group of people wanted something completely different. Activists who could see and understand the beneficial impact a wiki could have on politics, how it could allow real time history and enforce intellectual integrity, while enabling participatory democracy and deliberation for thousands of people who to this day were all to tired of the politics as usual.

As usually happens in traditional politics, those who introduce a new idea that potentially threatens the status quo, are persecuted and this time proved no exception.

Michael Pilling, just as he was about to be fired wrote: "there is something very exciting going on here, and that current "seismic events" are the wobbling first domino of a chain reaction that could possibly save the world. When you look at what is happening right now, the oldest of the old school of politics is locked in a true "survival of the fittest" contest with the newest of the new school of politics. One of these methods will not survive." Upon being dismissed, he soon initiated Openpolitics.ca to create a venue for this new kind of politics.

The old school - (Politics as Usual)

The traditional view of politics (see politics as usual) is rooted in command hierarchy, a God's Eye View of what is and isn't ethical, and an absolute requirement to defer to authority.

Loyalty, Control and Brokerage.

Old school politics is pretty simple. At the crudest level it is about having the most followers with the biggest sticks. This hasn't changes much since we climbed down from the trees. In this kind of politics an "Alpha" who by some natural talent happens to be pretty good at pushing people around recruits a number of "Beta" types who decide it is better to help Alpha and be pushers rather than pusheees (a.k.a Loyalty). Now with this gang then Alpha's can push many other people off the pile of resources (control) and after taking the biggest share for Alpha, distributes just enough to all the Betas to keep them in the gang. In bigger and more complex societies there are games where multiple alphas with multiple gangs all eye each other until one Alpha cuts a deal with another Alpha (brokerage) to band together temporarily to push some other smaller gangs around.

The New school. (Postmodern Politics)

The new school is still being defined but certain properties are clear - it lives and breathes on information flows, high bandwiths supporting the participation of many and diverse "connected" people. Wiki is simply the first cheap technology to harness the potential. Postmodern politics has more to do with creativity than aggression and obeys the laws of information economics rather than scarcity. - all the resources that matter is "data" and data can be copied, shared and distributed almost without limit. In this kind of politics, transparency or the freedom of information then become essential factors for control, and wiki distributes this control to everyone equally.

Seduce Play Propagate Protect.

Another aspect of postmodern politics is that it runs on "vibes." Rather than having somebody push somebody else, it starts with somebody (this is the other kind of alpha) who can do something "cool". Maybe it is saying cool things, maybe it is being beautiful, maybe it is being able to entertain, or just be fun to hang out with. Anyway other (beta) people will tend to be Seduced (not necessarily in a bad way) and find some way to get involved or interact with the cool thing. By interacting and putting some of themselves into the thing (a.k.a Play) they become more and more invested, and then ultimately will internalize whatever structures, ideas, fashions, whatever is going on. After they play, they Share (propagate) whatever is going on with others, as this thing gets around a lot and a bunch of people identify with it, and if someone tries to mess with it they rebel or (protect) against the threat.

If 'form' in the Old School results from access to power and scarce resources, form in the New School results from what have been called chaordic principles - the order in chaos and all that stuff. In this regard, the Old School is grounded in highly a mechanistic and confrontation based view of reality. By comparison, the New School is more akin to systems in nature in which order emerges gradually out of confusion and a multiplicity of viewpoints. In this regard, diversity of viewpoint is highly desireable. For just as diversity results in strength and vigour in natural systems, it is anathema to the mechanistic, command and control mindset of the Old School in which order is something that is instilled by the biggest thug.

The clash of the systems.

Neither behavior system is at all new in politics, but what is new is how the two political cultures clash over a single pile of bananas (control of government or over a political party) Power is physical, vibes are not. In the old days, when most of the resources were physical, the physically stronger old school almost universally won, because they could generally achieve the most force on any particular pile of bananas. But these days, the information technology has created vibes on steroids, while scattering around the resources (ideas?) that need to be controlled.

The party may have been the first political organization in the world where this contest in political terms was close to a fair fight (but still lost in the short run).

Global Implications

How can this save the world? Well since the old politics is ultimately about controlling resources, (if you aren't controlling resources you are not winning eh?) if we stick with this as the only game then we will wipe ourselves our in one giant tragedy of the commons.

The definition of success in the new school is being popular - it is true grassroots democracy. This in itself is not going to save the earth, but the liquidity and dynamism of that kind of politics will - it is an environment that allows evolution and selection without the survival struggles.

What the heck is postmodernism, anyway?

According to this site, postmodernism is "a cultural and intellectual trend of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries characterized by emphasis on the ideas of the decenteredness of meaning, the value and autonomy of the local and the particular, the infinite possibilities of the human existence, and the coexistence, in a kind of collage or pastiche, of different cultures, perspectives, time periods, and ways of thinking."

This is a perfect match for the party's values of decentralization and diversity. It means, everyone has something of value to say. Meaning exists in people's everyday experiences, and generalizations (and theories, and organizational structures, and policy) must recognize this. A man in Ottawa (or Regina, or northern BC) cannot truly speak 'for' a woman in Pelee Island (or Vancouver's Downtown East Side, or in Oka). I am not saying he should not - that is something we all understand, if grudgingly - but that it's not possible. He cannot. It's not honest if he tries to.

(Here I am using gender to illustrate one example how people's experience differs. I could as effectively have used race, class, national origin, religious/spiritual beliefs, sexual orientation, regional location, mental or physical ability, employment status, linguistic background, or an infinite number/combination of the above.)

The man in the above example is a product of his experiences, as she is a product of hers. As his experiences have shaped who he is, as a human, a man and a politician (or whoever he may be), they have formed the way he understands the world. The same goes for her: her worldview is, likely as not, to be completely different than his.

It is very easy to assume that everyone thinks the same way as we do. We don't even think about all the assumptions that are loaded into almost every opinion that we hold, and we're not aware that some opinions are just that - opinion.

This is at the root of postmodern politics: other people may think about something completely completely differently than you do - and they are just as "right" as you are.

In this world of the de-centredness of meaning, with increasing complexity and uncertainty everywhere we look, we must be ever vigilant to the fact nobody has a monopoly on "truth" - particularly not you, or me.

If we want to truly reflect the diversity of the "infinite possibilities of human existence," and I strongly believe that we do, we must encourage - not just permit, not "tolerate" but actively encourage - a strong diversity of voices in our system.

Postmodernism is also understood by many to be descriptive - to refer - as well as ''prescriptive - to defer. "Decenteredness of meaning" describes something that is actually happening. The theories and models that we have relied on to make sense of the world no longer apply. We can find examples of this everywhere we look: the nuclear family model; the bipolar "left/right" continuum of political ideology; the corporate music industry; economic globalization based on capital-heavy development in the Third World.

If we look closely, we find that our deepest assumptions regarding these are challenged by the realities we are faced with in Canada in 2005.

It is tempting to deny the challenges we face and try to adjust facts to fit our theories. In fact, this has been the solution adopted by the major institutions of our time, who will go to great lengths to hold on to their ideas of "truth."

However, people are called upon to creatively and critically develop new models which are capable of recognizing the vast, unimaginable diversity of experiences which comprise the Canadian population.

What does this mean for policy-making?

In order to address these exigencies, we must re-examine each policy area with an eye to challenging the assumptions which support our beliefs around it. This is a useful exercise not only because it will make our policies stronger, but also because the exercise itself will deepen our understanding of ourselves, others, and our abilities and limitations. By examining something like gender, family, welfare, or third-world debt), and seeking out and challenging the assumptions that go into it, we can ((decolonize our own views of things. We also need to prescribe the options while not getting apprehensive of its acceptance. We can analyze what has been rejected. For example whether the rejection of Islam has been well informed, whether , its rejection has been based on the generalisations that were not wellinformed. Understanding deconstruction through the monotheistic perspective and recognizing the exigenceis of ecologically sustainable urban economy, consumption and production systems.