Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Internet and Power

While writing the fifth draft of Delux, I've been thinking a lot about organizations.

Religious organizations vary, but typically have some hierarchy, at least at a local level. The Catholic Church is highly structured with worldwide reach. Ultimate authority rests with the pope at the Vatican. In the Anglican and Episcopalian churches, the Archbishop of Canterbury plays a pope-like role, but with much less authority than the Vatican. Anglicans meet every ten years at the Lambeth Conference to vote on issues facing the organization and, while the Archbishop has influence, things don't always go his way. All religious organizations rely on some text as the basis of their faith.

The art world has no central authority or central text. Players in the art world build their influence in the markets to create power. Newer works usually refer to or build on older works, but don't adhere to a "Bible." The lack of central authority allows artists and galleries to experiment without risk of excommunication.

The difference in organizational structures influences, in turn, how necessarily conservative religions are and how necessarily liberal the arts are. To maintain the legitimacy of their hierarchies, religions cannot waver in the beliefs they hold. On the flip side, to sell art, artists and galleries have to respond to and reflect changes in society. Repeating what comes before benefits religion and makes art cliché.

Then comes the Internet.

Francis Fukuyama writes about the way societies evolve, from tribes to either glorious democracies or failed states. I listened to a recent speech Fukuyama gave at the World Affairs Council. It's a captivating talk. He argues that government requires three things: power, rule of law, and accountability. He then gives examples of differences in how these three ingredients mix in different societies.

In a democracy, for instance, Fukuyama says that the power is in the military and police, the rule of law is embodied in the written laws and judicial system, and accountability derives from free elections. What happens when the Internet makes information ubiquitous? All three parts of Fukuyama's equation shift.

In the religious world, that has led to more open discussions of things like sexual abuse by priests. In the art world, the Internet has played the economics of scarcity (only a limited number of copies of this work) against the economics of ubiquity (everyone can see this work for free). In the political world, arguably the Internet has fostered the whole new class of (relatively) peaceful uprising in the Middle East.

The fun of setting Delux at the turn of the millennium is that readers will look back and know how things turned out ten or fifteen years later. The work for me in this draft is showing the influence of the Internet before the characters could have understood all its implications.

No comments:

Post a Comment