Apr 8, 2019
Given that our conversation with James Bridle was about enlightenment, let me begin by reiterating that it’s no substitute for his book THE NEW DARK AGE. If you really want to be enlightened, read it. You won’t be disappointed.
The point of the book and our conversation is that today’s digital revolution, with its cornucopia of information, was supposed to enlighten, but is actually become a vehicle for mass mystification. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Bridle lives in Greece. The ancient Athenian imagery is, of course, self-evident. In today’s so-called information society, Bridle says, we are back in Plato’s Cave. Staring at shadows. Transfixed by lies. Awash in ignorance.
How does democracy fit in here? There’s an intimate relationship, he says, between a successful democracy and the visibility of the technology maintaining it. He uses the example of a technology of ancient Athens to make his point here. It’s the KLE-RO-TER-ION - a randomized device designed to select citizens to state offices and juries. This slab of stone, which literally sat in the heart of the Polis, was the anti Facebook - technology that all Athenian citizens could see and thus understood – and it was the bedrock of their democracy. Transparency of technology, Bridle thus insists, is essential to democracy. Might Blockchain be the answer here?
In our age of digital obfuscation and confusion - it’s no surprise that authoritarianism is prospering around the world. The Putins, Erdogans, Trumps and other mountebanks of our digital age rely on ignorance. Authoritarianism is a consequence of the mystification of the world – to people not understanding it and thus grasping at the simplest solutions to blindingly complex problems. Ignorance empowers xenophobes, he says. Once again, Bridle borrows from ancient Athens. As Plato reminded us The Republic, ignorance is the best friend of autocrats.
But It’s not just ancient Greece that is relevant to Bridle’s argument. He uses contemporary Greece as an example for avoiding the descent into xenophobia and fascism. Yes, he acknowledges the existence of the Golden Dawn and other violently anti democratic fringe groups in Greece. And yet contemporary Greece – which is on the very front line of African and middle eastern immigration – hasn’t fallen under the spell of autocracy. Why? Historical memory – a kind of enligh
Rather than contemporary Greece, however, Bridle’s main fix for dysfunctionality of contemporary democracy lies in Ireland. He uses the examples of Ireland’s Citizens assemblies – randomized selection of citizens to solve complex problems – which successfully devised a political solution to the age-old issue of abortion. And he suggests that would certainly have been a better system in the UK than parliament for figuring out complexity of Brexit. Citizens Assemblies is definitely a theme we’ll come back to in this show.
Hope you enjoyed this week’s episode with James Bridle, you can find out more about him here:
Find James’s Books here:
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Produced by Jason Sanderson - Podcast Tech