The Power Elite- Net Neutrality and Digital Identities

power elite

50 years ago C. Wright Mills coined the phrase “The Power Elite” to describe the process by which the leaders of the military, corporate, and political elements of society are able to assume and use decision-making power to insure their own selfish interests. What results, of course, is that the ordinary citizen is a relatively powerless subject of manipulation by the Power Elite. The only thing that has changed over the last 50 years is that the Power Elite has become more efficient and effective in assuming power and limiting dissent. With the Bush Administration the corporate and political connection has reached heights that would astound Mills were he alive today. Of course, critical for this domination to be maintained is control of the media. Knowledge is power and as long as the average citizen is dependent upon talk radio and cable television for news, the erosion of possibilities for participatory democracy continues unseen and unheard.

The one centrifugal force to this consolidation of power in the hand of an elite few is the Internet. The Internet has turned into a potent force for participatory democracy. Not only has the “blogisphere” provided anyone with internet access a chance to talk to anyone else with access, but groups like MoveOn.org have proven the power of the Internet to apply effective political pressure. Consequently, the Power Elite has ramped up the attack on a free and open Internet.

Network Neutrality
The San Francisco Chronicle had an editorial Monday that clearly discusses the latest legislative attempt to undercut internet access and to eliminate “Network Neutrality.”

THE WIDE and unbounded Internet could soon be fenced in by cable and phone firms. Higher prices and less choice may lie ahead under a misguided bill moving forward in Congress.A House committee dumped a plan to enforce network neutrality, a clunky term for an important concept. The phrase stands for an original ideal of Internet — equal access and no hidden charges to climb aboard.On one level, the fight is a battleship clash between consolidating telecoms, such as Verizon and AT&T, and major Internet services, such as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft. The standoff is over the next big thing: video direct to your TV or computer screen.But the implications reach beyond what movie to watch. The cable and phone companies, growing bigger with each merger, want to cash in on their increasing leverage. Faster e-mail might cost more. A net-based company might pay more for a faster connection to customers.

What would result would be a limitation on choice and a tiered system benefiting those who could pay.

Customers could face one set of services offered by a cable or phone company — or a higher-priced list of alternatives from outsiders. If Yahoo was part of the standard-priced bundle, would you pay more for Google? It would be a two-tier world, not the even-up access that the Internet offers now. New upstarts would have a hard time cracking the lineup, while the familiar names stayed on top.The Republican majority on the Energy and Commerce Committee directed the Federal Communications Commission not to pass rules on net neutrality though it could take up the problem on a case-by-case basis. This result is lip service to the idea of keeping the net free and open.The Internet isn’t served by layers of government regulation. But it shouldn’t become a captive of one industry. Net neutrality should be a guiding principle to guarantee open use.

A coalition of grassroots organizations, bloggers and concerned citizens from across the political spectrum was formed this week to put political pressure on congress to protect network neutrality. Their website is SavetheInternet.com. I strongly urge you to visit the website and send letters to your members of congress.

Digital Identities
The Power Elite use the media to “Manufacture Consent“, usually through scare tactics, resulting in what David Altheide calls The Culture of Fear. Those interested in controlling the Internet are not going to expose their true motives. Instead, they embark on a misinformation campaign to convince us it is dangerous to allow the Internet to continue to grow without restrictions.

There is an editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal, by deputy editor David Henninger, that shows the process in action. Entitled Disinhibition Nation, it provides a textbook case of how the Power Elite use fear to manipulate opinion. The article begins with a bizarre, outlandish example that is intended to frame the argument that the web is a scary and dangerous place and, by implication, ought to be controlled.

Kevin Ray Underwood, the repressed Oklahoma cannibal, kept an Internet “blog” of his compulsions for years before kidnapping and killing a 10-year-old neighbor last week. On his blog, Kevin wrote a lot about Kevin: “The reason for my lackluster social life is a severe case of social anxiety and depression. I’m on medication now, which helps a lot. Well, in ways.”I don’t think the blogosphere is breeding cannibals. But it looks to me as if the world of blogs may be filling up with people who for the previous 200 millennia of human existence kept their weird thoughts more or less to themselves. Now, they don’t have to. They’ve got the Web. Now they can share.

So, just as I suspected, the web has become a place for cannibals to express their weird thoughts. Not only is this “blogging” phenomenon growing at an alarming rate, but it is allowing people, all sorts of people, to express whatever is on their mind.

Technorati, a site that keeps numbers on the blogosphere, reports that as of this month the number of Web logs the site tracks is 35.3 million, and doubling every six months. Technorati claims each day brings 75,000 new blogs. We know something’s happening here but I’m not sure we know what it is.Typically, a blogger creates a Web site and then, in the pale glow of a PC screen, types onto a keyboard what’s on his or her mind.

This results in “Disinhibition” and we understand what happens when people lose their inhibitions- the collapse of society as we know it!

…there is one more personality trait common to the blogosphere that, like crabgrass, may be spreading to touch and cover everything. It’s called disinhibition. Briefly, disinhibition is what the world would look like if everyone behaved like Jerry Lewis or Paris Hilton or we all lived in South Park…The human species has spent several hundred thousand years sorting through which emotions and marginal neuroses to keep under control and which to release. Now, with a keyboard, people overnight are “free” to unburden and unhinge themselves continuously and exponentially.

Not scared yet? Well, Henninger uses another ploy common to the fear-mongers- trot out the experts. In this case a clinical psychologist who has created some labels that will allow us to turn Internet use into a potential psychosis.

Not surprisingly, a new vocabulary has emerged from clinical psychology to describe generalized patterns of behavior on the virtual continent. As described by psychologist John Suler, there’s dissociative anonymity (You don’t know me); solipsistic introjection (It’s all in my head); and dissociative imagination (It’s just a game). This is all known as digital identity, and it sounds perfectly plausible to me.

Actually, as is frequently the case in this sort of media manipulation, Herringer misrepresents Suler’s work. He assumes that WSJ readers will not be willing to actually go to the source to read Suler’s rather subtle analysis of The Psychology of Cyberspace

For anyone interested in looking more deeply into how the Power Elite use the media and PR strategies to manipulate us, I recommend two powerful documentaries by Adam Curtis: The Power of Nightmares and Century of the Self. They were originally broadcast on the BBC, but can be downloaded for free viewing here

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