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3.4 The Persistence of Traditions: Conflicts

There is an obvious conflict between the political form of representative democracy—that is: between the “parliaments” based on the old medium of face-to-face dialogue and on personal accountability—and the fact that political and economic decisions respond to a different logic that ignores dialogic exchange and its material conditions. Political dialogue becomes a content of television, which deprives it of meaning for the benefit of own message, which is:

“the very fact of being here justifies me, whatever I might say.”

The conflict affects not only the relationship between economics and national and international politics, but also the relationship between economy and ways of life. The medium of political “dialogue” reflects in part—if only abstractly— proximate dialogic relations. The sense of justice that is worked out in a group or in a small community can find its projection—albeit an abstract one—in representative democracy. But the forces activated by the money-Internet pair make a clear break with tradition, and produce an unbridgeable gulf. Particularly evident, even in Europe, are the great transformations of the political governance that are becoming increasingly linked with this economy and less and less connected with parliaments. The growing popular distrust towards the capacity of traditional political institutions to govern the economy democratically is under everyone's eyes.

Misunderstanding and conflicts arise from this coexistence of old and new media. However, many old media have endured and it is unlikely that they will easily disappear: this is the case with the routes leading to neighbouring places on foot or by bicycle, motorbike, car, or boat. Paths, rivers, lakes, lagoons and seas, urban streets, squares, shops, cafés and tea houses: these “media” ensure the possibility of combining distance relationships and proximity, mediated also by a slow pace.

This balance between remoteness and proximity was the foundation of ancient life, of its ethics, politics of “friendships”,[1] and political thought. In a sense, it was also the basis of its Medieval and, later, modern (and more subjective) repetition. That ethos has remained embedded in the Mediterranean and—with significant differences—in the continental “landscapes” of Europe, with their nature, communication routes, towns and villages, with their ancient historic centres and meeting places. These material conditions of human and environmental relations nourished the Renaissance European ideas of the dignity of life, of mutual respect and solidarity, of the right to education and freedom, and of politics based on dialogue and debate. All “democratic” practices have been marked by these features, while “mass” industrial production, mass armies, and the mass “public opinion”, press, radio and phone prevailed over the old “media” and their life styles, setting the conditions for both democratic revolutions and totalitarian politics.

Conflicts and ambivalences also occur in the new media, as we can see in the different uses of the Internet. The battle for free and open information is absolutely necessary, although we must realize that, currently, the weight of “universal” information is more on the side of mass manipulation than on the side of liberation.[2]

  • [1] Friendship was an important concept and fundamental practice in Athenian politics, as reflected in the works of Plato and Aristotle. See also Danani (2003)
  • [2] The use of the Internet, despite its great (see Castells (2009)) and not yet totally explored potential, is not sufficient to guarantee democracy. The use of information via the Internet may collide with other traditional “means” of control over bodies and minds, such as religious speech and practice, or the military control of a territory, as has been the case—and still is—in the aftermath of the “Arab Spring”, particularly in Egypt. Furthermore, people on the Internet are not always accountable for their messages. The emergence or latency of news also depend on computer skills that not everyone possesses or on secret information
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