Archive for April 2nd, 2003

Charlie Nesson’s great idea

Larry Lessig says that Charlie Nesson’s ideas always seem crazy until about a year later…

So Charlie walks into the office yesterday and says he has an idea that is crazy even for him..(but once we hear it, we like the idea)

Charlie’s idea is to run a candidate for President of the United States who is supported by the worldwide community of web-enabled activists.  Essentially this person would be a second superpower candidate for the key power role in the first superpower. 

Charlie is suggesting John Perry Barlow as the candidate, because John is excellent at debating and discussing controversial issues, and the role of the candidate will be to change minds–not simply to win votes.

I don’t know who the candidate should be (as far as I know Charlie hasn’t told JPB about this yet!), but I do think the idea highlights some interesting issues about how the first and second superpower interact. The power sphere of the second superpower is in a different dimension from nations, and as such, the second superpower can and does work to influence the behavior and balance the power of nations.  As inviduals we are all members of one nation or another, and we may choose to be members of the second superpower.  We can be both.  And it should be alright for individuals living in one nation to try to influence the politics of another nation, as long as those individuals are operating in their capacity as members of the second superpower.  The second superpower is not limited by national boundaries.  This is not one nation influencing another, but a trans-national movement seeking to influence nations.

Second superpower people identify themselves as citizens of the world, and care about social development, collaboration, innovation, open societies, and commons.  They believe that at heart all people are precious and are one.  Second superpower people need not be conventionally liberal or conservative, because there is political and social innovation yet to be done, and current political categories are certainly outmoded.  Perhaps people with second superpower beliefs constitute a bit over 10% of the population in the US–let’s say 30 million people.  Perhaps there are 40 million more in Europe, and 10 million in Japan, and several million living in the rest of the world in Asia, India, Africa, and South America.  Web-enabled, this group is both “virtually local” and realtime mobilized, and is thus an increasingly influential force.  On a worldwide basis the activist numbers add up to a very sizable group, despite second superpower members being minorities in their own nations.

Charlie’s interesting and slightly paradoxical idea is to take this group and focus their activities on taking over the most prominent power position in the first superpower. Of course it is unlikely to “work” in the sense of winning the election, but it would certainly raise interesting issues.  For example, what is the stake that the rest of world citizenry have in the governance of the United States, given that the US has declared itself the leader of the world?  Does this make other nations stakeholders in the United States government? If not, why not!

13 comments April 2nd, 2003


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