Friday, July 11, 2008

In thought, and in deed. In what I have done and in what I have failed to do....

Last week, I ran into Bill Thompson and confessed that I was his digital stalker. By this, I mean that I subscribe to the RSS feed from his page - if Bill posts anything there, I go and read it. Usually worth a look.

Today, Bill brings this. Generally, an interesting piece, but as I've argued before, I'd totally disagree with this statement:

"As technology evolves, the same public information laws create novel and in some cases previously unimaginable levels of transparency. In many cases, particularly those related to the conduct of top public officials, this seems to be a clearly good thing. In others, particularly those related to people who are not public figures, it may be more of a mixed blessing or even an outright problem."

Now, I've plucked that para from a much more agreeable article, and the context moderates that paragraph considerably. But the next line para offers something interesting:

"I’m reminded of the “candidates” of ancient Rome—the Latin word candidatus literally means “clothed in white robes,” which would-be officeholders wore to symbolize the purity and fitness for office they claimed to possess. By putting themselves up for public office, they invited their fellow citizens to hold them to higher standards. This logic still runs strong today—for example, under the Supreme Court’s Sullivan precedent, public figures face a heightened burden if they try to sue the press for libel after critical coverage."

I'm still trying to find that radio programme that underlined what an unmitigated disaster broadcasting Parliament has been for representative government. But the assymetric scrutiny genie is now well-and-truly out of the bottle. The upside is that - soon - the gynacological scrutiny on public figures will run it's course, and the logic of Googlisation - that all data will become more accessible and more subject to scrutiny and analysis - will start to undermine the standing of those who rival elected politicians as well.

But - in the meantime - is it the case that politics is to become a latterday version of The Priesthood? Are politicans going to have to be seen to be living in a garret with only a frumpy housekeeper for company, (oh, do your own equal-ops equivalent, willya?) subject to only regulated influences in the way that jurors are (I've been over this one before here), earning less than they would do with similar qualifications in civvy street?

Are we to expect them to turn the other cheek, as that quote suggests? Should we be looking for people who are willing to be seen to work long hours, and expected to perform public acts of goodwill - attending irrelevant meetings late into the evening, pretending that they can deal with problems that are really beyond their means, and so on?

Is such a representariat in the post to us already? And will we be glad when it fully arrives? And is such a caste capable, collectively of exercising what Tony McWalter called distributed moral wisdom?

I don't think so. With poverty and chastity comes obedience. And obedience - in this case, groupthink - is the enemy of everything that makes democracy really work.


Chris said...

Wearing white robes is also (?) a statement of power. 'Look at me', they say, 'I live in a nice part of town, I don't have to do manual labour and I have many servants and slaves.'

If I've understood your arguments correctly, the people who are avoiding the same level of scrutiny - the journalists, thinktankers and campaigners - are also public figures, so if the assymetry is between public and private figures, rather than officials, would that be ok?

Paulie said...

The assymetry is between politicians that the people who rival them.

Public or private - it isn't really the point.