The Internet:Undemocratic,Unegalitarian, and Much The Better For It

Pick up any newspaper, magazine, or other relic of the Gutenberg era, and if they aren't screaming about how the Internet is nothing but a haven for bomb-making lunatics (like the Unabomber?) or child pornographers, and you'll find some leftover lefty gushing about the Internet is 'Democratic' and/or 'Egalitarian' -- and thus, the government must intervene to 'preserve' this from the Evil Corporate Menace. (Vs. Gamera, tonight on MST3K. But I digress.)

One such is Molly Ivins, who likes to parade herself as spokesman for the commonfolk despite making more money in a year than I'm likely to see in the next ten. (Addendum:I have, of course, nothing against anyone making obscene amounts of money by taking advantage of the innate stupidity of the masses, but the least you can do is be honest about the contempt you must surely hold said masses in. I am;Molly Ivins is not. OTOH, she's rich, and I'm not, so perhaps there's something to be said for hypocrisy. But, once again, I digress.

In an event, some weeks back, she was campaigning for the government to do to the Internet what it's already done to America -- seize all of it in the name of 'the people' and then only let some select few of the people access it. Of course, she said this was to create some sort of 'protected' area where the Evil Corporate Menace could not 'control' what was being said;instead, the government would control it. This, presumably, is better.

Now, it should be obvious by now that Ms. Ivins doesn't know thing one about the Internet, but if commentators limited themselves to only talking about what they knew about, the editorial pages of the world, Usenet, and my home page would all be blank. Be that as it may, it seems it is time to disabuse the world of the twin delusions that the Internet is 'democratic' and 'egalitarian'

First, a few definitions.

Now then. Let's go one by one, shall we?


When was the last time an argument on Usenet ended because it was obvious everyone but a single ranting lunatic, perhaps with a reptilian pseudonym, had been swayed to one side or the other? When was the last time you were asked to vote on whether or not Joe Shemendrick ought to be allowed to put up a web page? Were you asked before Chris Lewis started issuing spam cancels? And if you were, do you think it mattered?

The Internet isn't a democracy. I didn't wait for majority approval before I created my web page. Debates on Usenet do not run for a certain period of time, and then have the results tallied. Everything done on the net is done by decide who to killfile and who not to, whether a newsgroup is worth reading or not, etc. If there is debate on a topic, those involved in the debate can leave any time, and take action with or without the approval of the group. Agree with spam cancelling? Go issue some cancels! Think spam cancelling is censorship? You're a moron -- but that's your choice. Go set up a resurrection bot of some sort. There's no governing body to stop you -- just free individuals acting, and reacting, and counteracting, all without any need to get the approval of their peers. Indeed, anyone who needs the approval of others before acting probably doesn't belong on the net.

There are vestiges of pseudo-democracy in many parts of the net, such as newsgroup creation, but they lack the key element that diffrentiates democracy (bad) from consensus (good) -- any real means of enforcement. People obey newsgroup votes because they choose to, but there is no means to make them do so. Newsgroup 'voting' is simply an informal means of destermining consensus -- it is not truly democratic, since anyone is free to ignore the results of any vote while risking only social, not legal, backlash.


"The Internet Is Egalitarian". Hooooo, boy. This is the 'Big Lie', right up there with "The check is in the mail", "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help you." and the third, which Senator Exon doesn't want you to see.

The Internet is supremely UNegalitarian, always has been. The mere concept of 'net.legends' and 'net.kooks', the innumerable 'Top 5%' of the Web sites (currently, 96% of all web sites are in the Top 5% of the Web),killfiles, watchfiles, hotlists, and so forth, all point to a culture which is not merely nonegalitarian, but judgemental as all hell.

Every individual who posts to Usenet, designs a web page, contributes to a mailing list, etc, is continually being judged. In the blessed abscence of any board of censors, any editors, any reviewers, the only way to seperate the wheat from the chaff (and see that only the chaff is heeded) is for each individual to stand in judgement over every other individual. Quite simply, while everyone has equal access to the net, some are a hell of a lot more equal than others. Some people are regularly heeded;others regularly ignored. But this status is not assigned by any superior body -- it is assigned solely by the judgements of millions of net users.(This makes those whose business it is to annoint some and condemn others very, very, nervous indeed. What will become of the editors and reviewers and censors of the world, when everyone must do those jobs for themselves? Answer:About the same thing that became of buggy-whip manufacturers, and damn good riddance to the lot of them.)

So What is the Net, Then?

Glad you asked.

The net, of course, is an anarchy. Anarchy is not democratic -- democracy is just another form of oppression. Anarchy is not egalitarian -- all men are most assuredly not created equal, and only a government can force the unequal into equality. The Internet is a true, functioning, anarcy, where all are free -- but freedom has nothing to do with equality.

People like Molly Ivins don't like this. Too bad for her -- this isn't a democracy, and she doesn't get a vote.

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