When I think back
On all the crap I learned in high school
It’s a wonder
I can think at all
And though my lack of education
Hasn’t hurt me none
I can read the writing on the wall
—Paul Simon, Kodachrome (1973)
Nothing that you learned in school has prepared you for today. Nothing. You are not ready. For smug Canadians, consider that 2/3 of us think there is a crisis of asylum seekers at our borders. They are wrong. And even more worrying, Russian trolls may be behind this, or not.
We are now living in a networked world. This was barely visible 20 years ago. It was hardly imaginary 40 years ago. It’s now our reality, and it scares people so much that many are flocking to populists and demagogues for reassurance. But tribal values are not democratic values.
Here are just a couple of points to counter 2/3 of my fellow Canadians, who likely will not be swayed by the facts.
“Alarmist and populist rhetoric about Canada being overwhelmed by a horde of refugees crossing the border is resurfacing these days.
Not only is this a dangerous narrative, but it is also an unfounded one.” —Jean-Nicolas Beuze (UNHCR)
“Movements of people typically happen in waves, depending on geopolitical conditions. In Canada, the number of new claims for refugee status recorded by the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) last year was the highest number since record-keeping began in 1989, though it’s very similar to 2001 levels.” —Globe & Mail 2018-10-01
With every part of the political spectrum feeding us fake news and the events in far-off countries having effects on our own borders, each citizen in a democracy has to become an aggressively informed sense-maker. Today, the world is liquid, with few hard borders to stop information. Therefore ensuring we have unfettered access to information, as citizens with inalienable rights becomes paramount.
Our reality is the world’s reality. We can criticize populism in Turkey but we are facing it in our country. The ‘West’ is not immune to any of the world’s problems.
Westerners, she [Elif Shafak] tells me, have traditionally seen their countries as occupying a different reality than countries like Turkey, which too many regard as distant, backward and naturally vulnerable to losing basic rights like freedom of speech.
“What has changed in the last two years, particularly in the last year, is that basic assumption,” she says. “Now many people in the West, particularly in America and Europe, realized that, wait a minute, we’re living in a very liquid world, and the rights that we have taken for granted, it is possible to lose them.”
As a result, she says, “East and West are more connected than before.” —Politico 2017-08-17
This ‘liquidity’ is another indication of a quadriform society emerging. Our institutions and markets are inadequate organizational forms to deal with a liquid world. We need new network forms.
In the USA, the ACLU has stepped up to fill this role. It is providing the network form to promote civil liberties. A central component is the Voter Hub. Information visualization is another way to show complicated issues such as gerrymandering — What the District!? — and provide people with a view of their own neighbourhood.
I intend on looking for, and writing about, more examples of networked organizations that provide a role that neither markets nor institutions can provide. We can each do something. As individuals we can get out of our close-knit communities and cultural silos with a mere click. We can ignore the bots, trolls, and propagandists and instead connect to real people, doing real work in other parts of the world. From these networks we can then get real knowledge about what is happening in the world. Citizenship in the network era starts with personal knowledge mastery — making sense of the networked world on our own and with our fellow citizens.