Death of the Internet

FCC Building - credit FCC.jpg

It seems we are surrounded by death these days.  In addition to the various deadly attacks by men who seemed to think killing is some kind of answer to some questions to which most of us find more peaceful solutions, in addition to the genocidal enforcement of government policies and perspectives not shared by the populace in some international communities, in addition to the apparently cavalier, race-related violence perpetrated in the U.S. by law enforcement and others and in addition to the topic presented here for several weeks, namely, the death of democracy itself—in addition to all of that, so it seems, the Internet as we know it is about to die.

Earlier this year (May and July) this blog echoed dire warnings about a plan to essentially sell off the Internet by allowing telecommunications companies to monetize web traffic. Now, as many of us feared, the issue of net neutrality has come to a critical juncture. During the December 14th meeting of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the five person commission will cast votes expected to break along party lines, to repeal the 2015 net neutrality rules.

Your Tax Dollars at Work

To read descriptions of the impending event from different sources, take a look at the links below (Note that each is a little different, presenting different parts of the story from different perspectives).

  • New York Times: ”F.C.C. Plans Net Neutrality Repeal in a Victory for Telecoms”
  • Axios: ”FCC unveils plan to repeal net-neutrality rules”
  • Politico: ”FCC plans total repeal of net neutrality rules”
  • Slate: ”Bye-Bye, Internet We Knew and Loved?”
  • NPR: “FCC’s Pai: ‘Heavy-Handed’ Net Neutrality Rules Are Stifling The Internet”
  • The Verge: ”Ajit Pai and the FCC want it to be legal for Comcast to block BitTorrent”
  • ars technica: ”FCC explains why public support for net neutrality won’t stop repeal”

Of the People and for the People?


The post for this week was intended to be a full blog discussion of the 1997 Fareed Zakaria’s article on illiberalism.  That discussion highlights the split between a democratically elected government and the actions of that government once elected (actions which can be and often are anything but democratic).  This FCC situation appears to be a glaring example of exactly that kind of behavior by a government possessing little interest in governing for the People. In this case, the FCC, by mandate, issued a call for public opinion on the matter.  A study revealed that 98.5 percent of the legitimate comments posted to the FCC website last summer favored maintenance of net neutrality.  Even a study by some of the major telecom companies showed that Americans favor maintenance of net neutrality.  The will of the people appears to be that net neutrality should remain in place, as is. Apparently views of various Republican officials, conservative think tanks and the telecom companies (who benefit from Mr. Pai’s proposals) are more important than the will of the general public. Despite public opinion, the FCC is moving forward to dismantle previous telecom regulations.  Ajit Pai has decided to implement the plan he proposed even before he assumed his position as Chairperson of the FCC. “Of the people and for the people?”  Apparently not!

This original blog post for this week was intended to stress how we, the public need to focus on the actual governance of the country rather than to assume that once we have voted our chosen candidate into office, that we can rest assured our needs and desires will be reasonably well fulfilled.  So it seems, this week’s post is about exactly that.

There is always hope, or is there?

net-neutrality-rally-800x626.jpgGetty Images – The Washington Post

Perhaps there is still a chance.  Perhaps the idea of a free and open Internet, like the notion of a free and open American society, can be salvaged.  After the December vote by the FCC, consumer advocate groups are likely to sue for blockage of the proposed policies.  There is also a major protest outside Verizon stores scheduled for December 7th.  Furthermore, as always, you can still write to your congressperson to demand that he or she—your democratically elected official–insists that your opinion (regardless what it is) must be heard. However, as noted in the Slate article:

“…unless something seriously unforeseen happens to stall the process,
by this time next year, the internet could be a very different place.”


Illiberalism – True or False?

“Western liberal democracy might prove to be not
the final destination on the democratic road, but just one of the many possible exits.”
~Fareed Zakaria


Twenty years ago, in an article entitled “The Rise of Illiberal Democracy” (published in the Nov./Dec. 1997 issue of Foreign Affairs journal), Fareed Zakaria presented a somewhat controversial term he called “illiberalism”.  The original article (the PDF of which is referenced here) was originally intended as Exhibit A in a much broader post for this week.  However, on further consideration, its length and profundity warrant a front and center prominence the original post design did not afford.

Additionally, take a read through Zakaria’s December 2016 follow-up to the original article as well as both an analysis of and a counter to his proposals.

Next week we will reference these articles in a broader context which considers the possibility that while democracy could be on the demise worldwide, the American use of the phrase “death of democracy” could refer to the wane of something considerably more profound than we imagine.

Go West, Tea Man!


Ruby Sue and Edna Lu

Traveling the land, this free tea house cultivates community,
health, peace, sustainability, and genuine human interactions.

Follow Edna Lu the Free Tea Bus and her operator,
Guisepi, as they adventure through America.

We introduced our young friend Guisepi Spadafora, the Tea Man, to this community back in January with a follow-up query about possible summer projects for Guisepi and Edna.  As noted in his newsletter below (full text included), he is looking for a place to settle for a bit, perhaps for the winter, to write–somewhere in the southwest. Since some of you live in that area, you might have some ideas.  If so, and especially if you are not familiar with the Tea Man’s lifestyle and more than a decade of Good work, take a look at his newsletter and the links within it.  Guisepi expresses an exemplary lifestyle characterized by small group community coupled with personal responsibility worthy of the idea “We, the People!”  We should support him in any way we can. (more…)

Death of Democracy III

Part 3: Morality That Divides Us

“I loathe nationalism.  It is a form of tribalism–the idolatry of the century”
~Cornel West

When many of us hear the word “morals”, we often withdraw, flinch, find someone else to talk to or another place to be.  In fact, morals, in the simplest terms, only refers to what we consider “good” (or “bad”).  All of us hold them (moral positions, that is).  We might not talk about them much (in a metacognitive, that is, self-conscious manner) but we express them constantly.



A Conference on Democracy

“Democracy has dominated as a globally promoted and accepted form or governance not because it is perfect or because it, without fail, elects the best leaders or even very good leaders all of the time but because it is supposed to be self-correcting and potentially self-enforcing.”    ~Susan Hyde

democracy. not found - edited.jpg

For some time now, citizens of the United States have increasingly begun to question just how “self-correcting” or “self-enforcing” American democracy might be. Some of our most prominent thinkers have begun to ask poignant questions about the state of democracy, both in American and throughout the world.

As referenced in the post last week, on October 6th of this year, Yale University hosted a conference on democracy bearing the title “How do democracies fall apart (and could it happen here)?” Organized by Bright Line Watch, a research group, some of the most preeminent political scientists, historians and journalists convened in order to express their concerns regarding the current state of democracy.

The conference focused on two primary questions:

  • What are the critical factors that have led to the degradation or destruction of democracy in other times and places? 
  • Could these factors conspire to have the same effect in the United States today?

american sandcastle - tallsmall.jpgThe talks were grouped together into three sessions with differing topics as listed below.  The panel presented some rather dense material as well as a few startling statistics delivered with both erudition and humor.  Each speaker was limited to about ten minutes each.  In future weeks, this blog will unpack some of this material as it parallels ideas presented in the ongoing Death of Democracy series.  For now, if you would like to “attend” the conference, below you can access videos of each session from beginning to end. (The started times of each individual presentation are noted with each speaker/topic).

SESSION ONE: “How democracies die

  • Adam Przeworski – “Lessons from History” (predictive factors contributing to democratic failure) [00:06:40]
  • Margaret Levi – “Importance of Intermediary Associations (such as unions) in Maintaining Democracy” [00:20:35]
  • Timur Kuran – “Forms of Democratic Erosion” [00:31:23]
  • Beatriz Magaloni – Democratic Collapse (1950 – present) [00:44:00]
  • Panel Discussion / Q&A  [01:03:00]

SESSION TWO: Signs and Instances of Democratic Erosion

  • Nancy Bermeo – “Democracies don’t fall apart – they are taken apart” [00:00:53]
  • Anna Grzymala-Busse – “Rise of Authoritarian Populism” [00:16:15]
  • Susan Hyde – “International efforts to promote and resist democracy” [00:28:45]
  • Daniel Ziblatt – “Norm Erosion” [00:41:17]
  • Timothy Snyder – “Democracy produces time” [00:52:51]
  • Panel Discussion / Q&A [01:10:00]

 SESSION THREE: Addressing the Current State of Democracy

  • Julia Azari – “Untenable Compromise ” [00:01:31]
  • Emily Bazelon – “The Challenge of Journalistic Norms” [00:12:35]
  • David Frum – “What is to be done?” [00:23:17]
  • Aziz Huq – “How does the Constitution meet the threat of democratic backsliding?” [00:33:55]
  • Tom Ginsburg – “What would a new Constitution look like?” [00:45:15]
  • Frances Lee – “Thinking about the unthinkable” [00:56:10]
  • Yascha Mounk – “What can we do?” [01:08:56]
  • Panel Discussion / Q&A  [01:23:23]

One of the most stirring speeches was given by Yascha Mounk during the last session of the conference.   He first delivered one of the most pessimistic lines of the entire proceeding, saying, “It’s clear to me that if the economic trends of the last thirty years go on to the next fifty democracy is toast.”  However, in his attempt to answer the question ‘What can we do [to preserve democracy]?” he also stated the following:

I think it’s really important for us to fight for a vision of a multi-ethnic society.  And I think that involves a dual fight.  It obviously involves a fight against the white nationalism of the right and some of its enablers who are sitting in the White House.  But I think it also involves us putting forward a notion … of what it can be for us to actually build a multi-ethic society together and for us to see what we have in common across racial and religious lines rather than just what divides us. I think at this point it is very tempting for us to only speak about injustice and discrimination…but I think we also have to offer a vision for what it would look like for us to have something in common to fight for those ideals and to domesticate nationalism rather than leaving the field of nationalism to the right to be exploited by white nationalists.  I think we have to build an inclusive patriotism that can occupy that space. ~ Yascha Mounk




Death of Democracy II

Part 2

Last week we offered a link to Lee Drutman’s article “We need political parties. But their rabid partisanship could destroy American democracy” on Vox, September 5th, 2017.  This week, in Death of Democracy – Part 2 (an admittedly transitional post for the sake of relative brevity of Part 3) we consider some of the antecedents to the democracy we see melting all around us.

Democracy short with flag.jpgImage by alexander parms

Considering Parties

We often think of the United States as a bastion of democracy and democratic rule.  It might surprise you to learn that of all the countries in the world that rule (or profess to rule) democratically, the U.S. ranks below average with regard to its citizens’ opinion of their country’s governance.  This is to say that many people in the U.S. (as opposed to many folks from other nations) feel cheated by the government. These people feel as if they are being ignored, cast aside by politicians who are almost exclusively attending to the needs of corporations and the wealthy.  This accusation is lodged against both major political parties.  Both the mainstream Democratic and Republican parties have become, at least in the minds of many, complete failures with regard to their ability to actually represent the will of the People.  The last presidential election most likely, at least in part, represented a desperate plea on the part of some of us to break the pattern of a seemingly tone-deaf Congress.  However, such dissatisfaction does not suggest that the idea of political parties is at fault–or does it?


Death of Democracy

Part 1

Before the [civil] war, it was said ‘the United States are’, grammatically it was spoken that way and was thought of as a collection of independent states. And after the war it was always ‘the United States is’ as we say today without being self-conscious at all.

~ Shelby Foote, historian

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…”   So begins the preamble to the Constitution of the United States.   “We the People…” began with the idea of banding together in the spirit of democracy, in order to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”  Oh, well! Could this period in which we now live represent the beginning of the death of the democratic experiment that was and is supposed to be the United States?

charlottesville.jpgCharlottesville, 2017  – image by Andalou Agency/Getty Images

As a second follow-up to Tim Snyder’s article On Tyranny, the post this week links to a lengthy article only briefly mentioned in last week’s post.  The article is called “We need political parties. But their rabid partisanship could destroy American democracy” (which appeared in Vox on September 5th, 2017).   The article, by Lee Drutman  is quite long, but well worth working your way through as it presents a series of issues we should all consider, including:

  • Our fundamental disagreement about what it means to be an “American”
  • The value of political parties
  • Reasons for why we maintain relatively intractable political positions and staunchly maintained polarization
  • How and why division in current U.S. politics is preventing democracy from functioning as it should
  • How the current political climate in the U.S. threatens to create a breaking point akin to the Civil War
  • That inequality and polarization have grown in tandem for the last few decades
  • That the intrusion of money into the electoral process is fueling voter discontent and the disjuncture between the public (actual constituents) and campaign donors (paying constituents)’.

As mentioned, the article is lengthy, not very sexy, but well worth the effort to understand what it presents.

Extending the Drutman article’s focus on political division, next week’s post– Death of Democracy – Part 2—frames this problem into a slightly more embedded historical context, reaching toward addressing our need not only for less division but toward more proactive socio-political solidarity.