Thursday, May 26, 2016

Thoughts on democracy from the U.S. capital

I've been thinking...

Suing news outlets with whom you don't agree is not philanthropy. Wealthy individuals litigating an agenda by themselves (and secretly) is different from "impact litigation" led by public interest groups, (even when financed by a few individuals). (see below * on associational power)

The arc of platform consolidation built on the back of personal data that has contributed to the collapse of independent journalism is a story line we may see repeated in the nonprofit sector writ large.

Community-governed, small, independent associations - which de Tocqueville noted as core to American democracy - are threatened by homogenizing pushes for scale, efficiency, short-term metrics, and earned revenue.

These associations are key to what scholars call social capital, political wonks call civic engagement, and neighbors recognize as community. We overlook these roles of nonprofits and associations at our peril.

They are bulwarks against both economic and political monoculturalism. Otherwise known as inequality and tyranny.

Associations fill this role in at least two ways. First, they provide support for a diversity of views.
* Second, their governance structure is intended to involve multiple people as a form of public accountability and mechanism by which power can be scrutinized. Toward this end, transparency and public reporting requirements for associations (and sits in tension with anonymity). We're fooling ourselves if we think concentrated wealth or power is any less threatening in a nonprofit or philanthropic guise.

Pluralism requires a diversity of options, in associational life and digital space, with distributed governance.

There is no independent sector in digital space.

Creative Commons, Wikipedia, Mozilla, Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Internet Archive are our first models of civil society organizations purpose built for the digital age. We all manage digital resources now. We need new institutional forms.

We need local, community-led associations - distributed, fragmented, pluralistic, and contentious - equipped to help us dedicate our private resources - time, money, and data - to public benefit.


rhesa j said...

"We're fooling ourselves if we think concentrated wealth or power in civil society and philanthropy is any less threatening than its corollaries in other sectors." Yep...

This quote from your "been thinking," tells why real (vs. rhetorical) work enabling growth of natural ecosystems, embedded in place, e.g. city as platform or neighborhood economics, must ideally underlay efforts to redesign civil/ philanthropic systems/structures.

love ur thinking per usual

afu said...

power in civil society and philanthropy is any less threatening than its corollaries in other sectors." Yep...

Bradford Smith said...

Insightful as always Lucy. In what ways will "digital" communitarianism be more effective at stemming the concentration of power in digital monopolies like Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple than "analog" communitarianism was in stemming the concentration of power in a previous generation of analog monopolies? At its heart isn't this a question of resolving intellectual property rights in favor of the public good?