An Internet Idea Army. The Upside of Down
Date: Tuesday, November 21 2006
Knopf Canada (2006)
By Charles Campbell
November 17, 2006--Thomas Homer-Dixon's The Upside of Down: Creativity, Collapse, and the Renewal of Civilization paints a grim picture of our not-too-distant future. Global warming, scarce oil, and rigid political, social and economic systems are likely to foster terrorism and other forms of civil conflict.
Yet The Upside of Down is also a hopeful book. Homer-Dixon, the Victoria-raised director of the Trudeau Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, wants us to learn from ecology. He wants us to see human endeavour through nature's lens. Systems grow, mature, become rigid, and break down. If we accept that this is true for human systems, we will be better able to create less rigid, less dangerously interdependent systems to minimize potential domino effects, and we will learn to plan for renewal when things do break down.
Of course, many people can talk a good line about impending peril. The question is, what are they actually doing about it? Homer-Dixon places a great deal of faith in individuals, in their ability to collaborate, create consensus, and place that consensus squarely in the public realm in a manner that cannot be ignored.
He's fascinated by Wikipedia's ability to create an enormous, resilient document of human accomplishment through a collaborative, voluntaristic process where ego and experts aren't given much sway. And he wants to apply that model to key global challenges, like creating a truly meaningful and widely used measure of human well-being and creating useful solutions to energy and climate-change challenges.
In part two of a Tyee interview conducted recently in Vancouver, he had this to say about the inadequacy of existing political systems and how we can tap the Internet to foster useful change…
Blame it all on Westminster:
"I think we have to begin with the recognition that the system is failing pretty significantly. To provide for rapid adaptation, we need a world that is very different from the world in which our political institutions developed in the 18th and 19th centuries. We have practical and empirical circumstances that are very different. People have enormous analytical power available to them. Much more information, more communicative ability, they travel much more. For the most part, as citizens, we are more competent and powerful. Power has moved down the social hierarchy from institutions to individuals. But along with power comes commensurate responsibility. People aren't taking on the responsibilities that come with our increasing role in governance -- self-governance.
[Proofreader's note: this article was edited for spelling and typos on November 22, 2006]