“Today the enemy is not called Empire or Capital. It’s called Democracy.” (Badiou)
As protests against authoritarian regimes unfold across the near east (in Algeria, Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere), the hypocrisy of Western style democracy also demands attention. Indeed the spread of Western style democracy is considered by many to be simply the homogenizing forces of neoliberalism expanding to new markets. In her book Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies (2009), Jodi Dean unpacks the collective fantasies around the free market, and considers democracy to be an empty cipher invoked by both right and left political positions. Whether expressed in the views of Colonel Gaddafi or US foreign secretary Hilary Clinton, those that invoke democracy define it in their own narrow terms. They use it to justify various tyrannies and hence it becomes ever more discredited in the process.
If largely discredited, one deeply ironic response is [V]ote Auction, by Ubermorgen.com, in which consumers were able to directly participate in the U.S. electoral process by trading votes – thus demonstrating how consumer capitalism and democracy are interchangeable in representational democracies. The convergence is materialised in the use of participatory technologies that encourage the feeling our involvement in politics is meaningful. This is further emphasised by use of social media and the various claims made for online services that offer effective participation in the political process (the so-called Facebook or Twitter revolutions). So we also need to ask what kinds of agency are produced through these technologies? Participation remains a fantasy in Dean’s terms, exemplified in clicking a button on an online petition for instance. This is something that Repetitionr.com by Les Liens Invisibles takes to an extreme by auto-generating fake signatures in support of a chosen campaign.
The projects reflect the desire for new institutional forms that challenge existing systems of representation and political organisation. The provocation is that we need to rethink these structures, and continue to ask, as Oliver Ressler’s project does, What is Democracy? Paraphrasing Dean once more, democracy is clearly not the answer to our political problems but a symptom of the times.
Geoff Cox, “Democracy 2.0”, in Geoff Cox, Nav Naq & Tom Trevor, eds., Art, Activism & Recuperation: Concept Store #3, Bristol: Arnolfini 2010, http://www.anti-thesis.net/contents/texts/democracy.pdf
Jodi Dean, Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies: Communicative Capitalism and Left Politics, Durham: Duke University Press 2009.