Democracy is rapidly a disappearing form of government. We will be lucky if we can just sustain soft autocracies.
Until recently social media was nothing. Now it’s the thing. So much so that the Supreme Court is getting on the act by accepting a case (would you believe), namely when can when public officials block people on their social media accounts.
Globally, social media has become the core driver of social engagement, political action and commerce. Clearly, we have now reached a point where without it, life as we know it could not take place.
But social media has provided individuals and groups everywhere with a tool to promote their own beliefs, no matter how irrational, illegitimate or even anti-social. Any group can promote beliefs and actions that could lead to violence, political irruption and worse. AI can create fake newscasters and even fake politicians such as Obama. The social media facilitates mass disinformation which is effectively unable to be rebutted.
Constantly evolving technology such as AI, deepfakes and encryption continually increase the strength of social media versus the governments that are trying to govern. But that is the world we live in now.
Social media has become a direct cause of a global decline in governability. No matter the legitimacy of a government, it is now a relatively simple project to promote beliefs and actions that will negatively impact government legitimacy, control and societal sustainability and quite possibly overthrow it, even against entrenched democratic values.
Social media encourages us all to believe that our particular belief is the right one and that all of us have the right to fight for it in whatever way works, irrespective of ethics or fairness.
Democratic societies are particularly amenable to being undermined by this global decline in governability. Elections are harder to call in these circumstances since any group can credibly call them as having been faked. Faster technological advances undermine democracy faster too, and with it an even further decline in governability.
As these trends accelerate and strengthen for many countries and societies the only long-term effective response is migration to less democracy in order to support or shore up governability. That means a short-to-medium-term trend to autocracy to damp down the negative influence of uber-activist social media.
That underlies the well-known fact that democratic societies are becoming less numerous. Meanwhile autocracies are becoming more numerous. India, now the most populous country on Earth, is well-advanced in this migration. China, of course, is already there. Numerous other countries are on the brink of crossing the line.
This surfeit of technology is undermining classic notions of governance and with that the now-old-fashioned idea of democracy. Autocracy in some form is inevitable; the only issue is how “extreme”. Is it the Indian form of (decreasingly soft) autocracy or the strong form as in China?
Right now, the issue is not whether autocracy is becoming ever more common. It is whether any form of democratic government can survive for much longer. What is the last date when it finally disappears?
It’s now clear that what we thought was a gift from heaven, social media, has in reality become the one-way conduit to autocratic societies. It’s also clear that once governability declines to a certain level there is no alternative to autocracy.
In other words, much as many of us see democracy as the ultimate ideal in governance, it’s increasingly an unrealistic and even quixotic ideal. It was good while it lasted but nothing lasts forever, not even good governance.
We’ve already got a lot of things to worry about that are bearing down quickly upon us – climate change, nuclear war, pollution and so on.
Declining governability is probably the direst of all these threats. It’s the one we haven’t formally recognized yet but its coming as we speak.
“And now the end is here.
And so, I face that final curtain…
I did it, I did it my way”
Courtesy of Frank Sinatra, who definitely did it his way.