The internet as anti-hegemonic

William Davies writes:

No leader, party or ideology can credibly be presented as serving the common good. There are only factions battling other factions. Meanwhile, the priorities of the national newspapers and broadcasters seem increasingly out of sync with those of the electorate, who can now turn to a plethora of online sources. Business lobbies have rarely been so powerless over the fundamentals of economic policy. …

The internet is an anti-hegemonic technology. It grants far more power to the consensus-breaker than to the consensus-maker. As the data analytics industry understands, it is a brilliant machine for mapping unusual clusters of feeling and behaviour, but far less suited to establishing averages and generalities. The internet fragments the ‘middle ground’ as a space of political argument, and grants a disproportionately loud voice to the niche and the crank. There are illusions galore here, but no sanctuary for the crucial synecdochal one on which representative democracy depends. Notions of ‘common sense’ and ‘the average voter’ lose their sway.

These trends may be good for the vitality of democracy in various ways, but not necessarily for parliamentary democracy, and less still for effective government in the traditional sense.

The cultural and political revolutions of a century ago make today’s factionalism seem like no big deal by comparison—though there are echoes of the past in the present, and the anarchists that were fighting and rioting in some American streets a century ago are back, at least in Portland. Increasing factionalism suggests a weaker body politic, or at least a less united one; one less sure of itself. And that suggests instability.

If it’s true that the trends William Davies identifies make for less effective government in “the traditional sense,” it should be asked, first, what “traditional sense” of effective government are we walking about, and second, what sort of non-traditional (but nonetheless effective) government might be possible?

It does seem counterintuitive that the connectivity the internet makes possible might be bringing about more factionalism and less unity—a more connected, but less united, society.