Jamie Bartlett: The outsiders changing the world
Radicals and insurgents are often laughted at or ignored. But their narratives can be compelling - and change the way poltics operates.
Jamie Bartlett is the writer of The Dark Net and Radicals.
WARNING: Live-blogging. Prone to error, inaccuracy and howling crimes against grammar and syntax. Post will be updated over the next few days.
Demos was set up to try to slow down the decline in trust in our established democratic institutions. It’s been a failure. The numbers of people who feel it essential to live in a democracy is dropping catastrophically among younger people. Only 30 to 40% of people in their 20s to 30s think it’s essential.
Everything we think about our politics and the way it is run was once dangerous, radical thinking. We’ve been through a turbulent 18 months in politics – and it’s only going to get more turbulent.
Here’s three ideas of what’s coming:
Beppe Grillo is an Italian comedian who got banned from TV for a joke, and ended up getting very interested in the internet. Could we introduce direct democracy though it, supported by citizen journalism? That would be fantastic! He had a degree of the optimism we’ve talked about today.
In 2009 he started the Five Star movement. They had a blog - his blog. Everyone who joined got a vote in the movement, via the blog. They set up local meetup groups. HIs idea was mocked. Yet, in early 2013, 1 in 4 people voted for it. It was a tsunami washing over Italian politics. It became the largest single party in Italian politics. Grillo motivated thousands of people to get involved in politics. It changed the demographics of the parliament. It’s an amazing sign of what the internet can do for our politics.
But has it done good things? Grillo is a comedian - and insults people. It’s funny. But it makes it hard for compromise to happen. He uses outrage to gain support. His blog was meant to smash down hierarchies - but it is run by “the staff”, an unknown group of people in Milan, who can delete you and your constant from the site in seconds.
We have new centres of power, with more polarised politics, but more people involved. This is what’s coming - the demand for more direct democracy is unstoppable. But it will look like the Five Star movement – or Donald Trump.
The transhumanist’s wager
Transhumanists believe in radical use of technology to improve humanity. Zoltan Istvan ran in the US political election on a transhumanist ticket. He used the idea of the immortality bus to garner attention from the media. He went to Home Depot to get paint for the bus - and he’s followed into the store by two camera crews and journalists. People start talking to him because of the media crew, and the journalists start writing about him. The journalists are creating this movement, because they’re obsessed by these wild stories. He went to a biohacking lab, had an RFID chip implanted to unlock his phone - but forget to check compatibility. It only worked on iPhones not his Samsung phone. He gets to Washington, and the world’s media pays attention.
They all called him leader of the Transhumanist Party. It didn’t exist. He was raising money for a non-existent political party, which is a federal offence. And not one single news organisation checked that. These details matter when dealing with radical parties.
AI will restructure our economies. Anyone who is good at AI and big data will be good at that in any industry. We’re going to create a new monopoly of power, and we’re going to end up with Vern wealthy technologists, and very poor service providers. Go to San Francisco, and you’ll see what that looks like. We’ll have Neo-luddites, and the only solution might need to be universal basic income, or something of its ilk. Zoltan was talking about this last year. Many of the things he says are ridiculous - but many things he says come true, too.
We need to pay detailed attention to radicals.
The new country of Liberland
Liberland is a “country” between Croatia and Serbia that neither of them want. There’s virtually no other place on Earth like that - so the first guy who turns up and claims it, gets it. And a radical libertarian from Prague claimed it. He is elected president by his friends. The news media start writing about it - and 200,000 people apply to move there. It will have voluntary taxation, because radical libertarians think taxation is theft. The tiny, weak government will only meet once a year, and exists to stop the will of the majority being imposed on the minority.
The Croatian police start blocking access. So, the year anniversary is held in nearly Osijek. It seems like a country in waiting. There are ministers of finance giving talks about the budget. They have a football team, and architectural competitions. It’s all about giving the appearance of country so they get recognised by the UN.
Thousands of people are donating money to this - including rich people from Silicon Valley. They believe that freedom from government is where we are going. The smartphone is one of the most powerful tools of individual liberty created. They think we are moving in a libertarian direction.
Is the nation state going to be around forever? Unlikely. Nobody imagined that the previous ways we lived would collapse: but they did. Liberland might be the beginning of an alternative…
It doesn’t matter if you agree with these people or not - the value of radical movements is not that they will take over, but that they will stimulate us to think for ourselves a bit more, to image different futures. And that’s going to be really important.