Sunday, June 4, 2017

Jamie Bartlett: Forget far-right populism - crypto-anarchists are the new masters

After decades of exaggerated prediction, the internet is finally transforming politics, but not in the way the digital prophets expected. The 90s, you may recall, were awash with optimism about our online future: limitless information and total connection would make us more informed, less bigoted and kinder citizens. But the internet is an overwhelming mess of competing facts, claims, blogs, data, propaganda, misinformation, investigative journalism, charts, different charts, commentary and reportage. It’s not the slow and careful politicians who have thrived in this busy environment, it’s the people with the shareable cut-through messages. Donald Trump might very well be the first truly social-media politician: his emotion-filled, simplistic blasts are perfect for the medium.

As a result, society is currently gripped by a curious consensus: that the internet has conspired with rightwing populists to sew up the future of politics. Noting the emergence of populist strongmen and demagogues, who seem to be digital wizards like recovering Twitter addict Trump, and violent opponents who seem only to bolster their support, many are comparing – with a certain grim fascination – our current turbulence with the 1930s. That is a very short-term view of things. The supremacy of the populist right is not the inevitable future. The rise of the right is better seen as an early skirmish in a much longer, and far more significant, technology-led restructuring of our politics and society. Digital technology has helped the populist right for now, but it will soon swallow them up, along with many other political movements unable or unwilling to see how the world is changing.

Consider for a moment how your life has changed thanks to digital technology. You can become friends with 2 billion connected people, chose your own news, and watch/date/order whatever you want, on demand. Infinite choice and control is now the norm, and yet formal politics has barely evolved since the days of Robert Peel. Our modern political system came of age in the industrial revolution, which was a time of massive organisations and centralised control. We are now, however, firmly in a new industrial revolution, characterised by endless choice, digital technology, data, automation and artificial intelligence. The economy, identity, political allegiances, perhaps even the essence of what it is to be human, are all starting to change, and our politics will have to change with it. The current set-up, including the populist right, will cling on for a while, like a legacy IT system that’s too pricey to update, but it will shortly become redundant. So what else might follow?

In October last year, while researching my new book, Radicals, I was invited by a Slovenian hacker in his late 20s called Pavol to a place called Parallel Polis, a three-storey building in Prague that includes a 3D printer workshop and the “Institute of Crypto-Anarchy”. . read more: