Bruce Sterling on the US election: the net is great at tearing down, terrible at building

Bruce Sterling's characteristically acerbic remarks on the US election gets to a really important point: internet-based movements have been amazing at tearing down corrupt establishment system, but have failed (so far) to create the kinds of stable governance structures that build up something better from the ruins.

I started noticing this after the 2001 People Power II demonstrations, which deposed the terrible leader of the Philippines using SMS-coordinated demonstrations, but the Philippines went on to elect a string of ever-worse leaders, culminating in a non-metaphorical fascist whose campaign platform included the widespread use of death squads against his enemies (he has since made good on this promise).

In the years since, this pattern has repeated itself over and over again, from Egypt to Ukraine.

The next four years are going to be critical for internet-based anti-establishment politics, but unless it works at the same time on assembling a stable, long-term scaffold for the program it supports, it will not succeed.

These flimsy modern upheavals go by many names: “springs” or “color revolutions” or “movements.” They are fatally easy to assemble, and so there are too many to count. They almost never develop into organized political parties, and almost never have the aim of promulgating rational programs for legislative action. Most efforts quickly disappear and are promptly forgotten. Now one of them has seized the Presidency of the United States. It’s the same phenomenon over and over, just with different branding: the Arab Spring, Occupy, Gezi Park, Euromaidan, the Ukrainian Civil War, Brexit, and now Donald Trump – except the last two have garnered legislative power. These miasmas appear anywhere save for the managed democracy of Russia and inside the Great Chinese Firewall, which is why both those powers now concentrate on spreading mayhem outside their borders. And whenever they do, they’re always electronically rapid. This means that they are spontaneous and therefore rantingly demagogic, unprepared for power, and tend to be poorly thought-through. Their political results are generally awful.


Maybe one of them truly worked: the original Arab Spring revolt in Tunisia. Many others have had diffuse impact or served to damage civil society. The upheavals in Ukraine, Libya, Yemen, and especially Syria, have been lastingly disastrous.

But a Tahrir Square rally and a Facebook Revolution were good enough to topple Egypt, and this year, the street rallies and networks turned out to be just as effective for a populist takeover in Britain and the USA. In recent years, Germany has been one of the few places that can congratulate itself for being a bulwark of legitimate democracy. But for how long?

BRUCE STERLING: NOTES ON THE 2016 US ELECTION
[Bruce Sterling/Texte Zur Kunst]


(Image: Maidan Square, Kyiv, 2014. Photo: Bruce Sterling)