Cyberspace and the Concept of Democracy
First Monday

Cyberspace and the Concept of Democracy

We often speak of democracy as a mere decision-making procedure rather than as a "form of life." Part of the reason for this formalism is the difficulty of revealing the aspects of individual and social existence that provide the impetus toward democracy and that democratic practices should reflect and augment. I argue that the Internet's status as a "virtual" rather than actual reality (its status as a serendipitous form of what phenomenologists call an epochéor a "placing within brackets" of our standard beliefs) reveals some of the more important aspects underlying democracy. In particular, the Internet's virtual status indicates that society is what I term a "metamorphosing multi-voiced body." This implies that democracy off-line and online must support the interplay or solidarity among the "voices" of this body (as opposed to their mere plurality) and simultaneously respect their heterogeneity. It must adopt the "interplay of equally audible voices" as its political ideal. Because this interplay among voices produces new discourses, democracy's valorization of the multi-voiced body must also affirm the metamorphosis that society's creativity brings about. I also consider what this view of democracy means for current issues concerning the fate and character of the Internet as well for the clash between the liberal, communitarian, and deliberative views of online democracy.


Bracketing The World
Rushdie's Midnight's Children
The Internet as Virtual Reality
The Internet as a "Dialogical Space"
The Internet and Voices
The Internet and New Voices
The Darker Side of the Internet: "Oracles"


Bracketing The World

We can understand democracy in two ways: as a decision-making procedure or as a "form of life" [1]. If we think of democracy as a form of life, then we also probably assume that it is based on and augments certain characteristics of individual and social existence - that it is not simply an arbitrary or pragmatic choice concerning the way we should live together. But how do we ascertain what these characteristics are? How do we reveal their existence beneath our formal discourse about society and democracy?

Phenomenologists have proposed a method for investigating these aspects of human existence as well as for getting back to "the things themselves." They use the term epochéto refer to the first and most important step of this method. This step requires that we suspend, or "place within brackets," our ordinary beliefs about the world, including the judgment that the world exists independently of our involvement in it. Once these beliefs are held in abeyance, we can interrogate the world on its own terms:

We wish, then, to consider the surrounding life-world concretely, in its neglected relativity and according to all the manners of relativity belonging essentially to it -- the world in which we live intuitively, together with its real entities [Realitäten]; but [we wish to consider them] asthey give themselves to us at first in straightforward experience, and even [consider] the ways in which their validity is sometimes in suspense (between being and illusion, etc.) (Husserl 1970, 156, brackets in the original; see also Husserl 1931, 110-111).

Does the epoché reveal things as they are? Does it deliver to us, for example, the "essence" of human community or society? It's more likely that this thoroughgoing suspension of our beliefs only allows us to see things through new eyes, that is, from perspectives that highlight previously ignored dimensions of a phenomenon. But this is still very important: these new perspectives may let us speak about democratic society in insightful ways that our traditional discourses have precluded or passed over.

Once we have dropped essentialism, and also absolute certainty, as the goals of the epoché, we can loosen up the phenomenologist's methodical manner of carrying out bracketing operations. In particular, we can take advantage of a serendipitous form of the epoché: the efficacy of chance occurrences to disrupt our usual way of thinking about things. These disruptions are often sufficient to provide the "new eyes" we seek. There are two disruptions of this sort that I have found to be particularly pertinent in clarifying democracy as a form of life: Salman Rushdie's provocative novel, Midnight's Children and the Internet. Rushdie's fictional devices for talking about the society of India bear a strong affinity to descriptions of the Internet. Although we will occupy ourselves only briefly with Rushdie's novel, it will help us show how the Internet reveals important aspects of society and democracy. It is ironic that we can use the Internet to inform us about the democracy of the very societies that gave birth to this information and communication technology - that we can use the virtual or artificial as a model for understanding, and perhaps improving, the actual. And ironic, too, that we will find on the Internet the same forces that undermine democracy in the actual world.


Rushdie's Midnight's Children

In Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie represents the ethnic and political diversity of India in terms of five-hundred and eighty one children born within the first hour of India's Independence. One of these children, Saleem Sinai, has the ability to read minds. He is therefore the natural site for communication among the children - for a "national network" or "forum" through which the voices of the children, the voices of India, "the myriad tongues of Babel," can speak to one another (Rushdie 1980, 271-274). Saleem Sinai also recognizes that each "I" in India "contains a similar multitude" and that understanding any of these "I"s requires "swallow[ing] a world" (458). He recognizes, in other words, that each voice is formed in light of the other voices that resound and contest for audibility within the community. Despite their initial willingness to hear one another, the children of midnight eventually become more like the adults rearing them. They transform their network of voices, their "Midnight's Children National Conference," into a plurality of exclusionary discourses, into racism and other forms of sectarianism, each demanding that it become the new society's oracle (306).

Rushdie's literary depiction of India captures the "agonistic" character of societies - the sense in which each society is an interplay of contesting forces or voices. He also makes us aware that a profound decision always faces the different ethnic, cultural, political, and other perspectives of a society: to affirm or to deny, promote or dissolve, the dialogue that simultaneously separates and holds together our heterogenous voices. In his fiction, then, Rushdie performs an epoché in relation to actual society, suspending our usual beliefs, such as the autonomy of individuals who only interact incidently, and allowing us to see more clearly that society is the continual metamorphosis of what we will call a "multi-voiced body."

We can take Rushdie's character, Saleem Sinai, as a fictional prototype of the Internet. Just as Saleem Sinai constitutes a place where the children of midnight can congregate despite the physical distances that separate them, so the Internet provides a "virtual" place for "netizens" from all over the globe. But virtual does not mean neutral: from the beginning, Saleem Sinai is "open" to hearing the other children and to maximizing their ability to enter into dialogic interaction with one another. However, his nemesis, Shiva, could have been the one selected to possess the ability for reading minds. But this would have had disastrous consequences: Shiva has a tyrannical bent of mind and the special ability to crush enemies with his huge knees. In reaction to Saleem's valorization of free expression, Shiva proclaims that the Midnight's Children National Conference should be run on the basis of the rule that he uses to control the members of his street gang: "Yah, little rich boy: one rule. Everybody does what I say or I squeeze the shit outta them with my knees!" (Rushdie 1980, 263). The Internet is no more neutral than Rushdie's congregation of children: it offers alternative architectures, for example, open or selective access to its domain, and therefore makes democracy in cyberspace an issue rather than a certainty (Jordan 1999, 38). Moreover, the Internet must contend with corporate, professional, government, and negative social forces that want to bend it to their own agendas - just as the Midnight's Children National Conference is threatened by (and ultimately succumbs to) contamination from the sectarian strife typical of its real world setting. In an ominous aside concerning the Internet community to which he belongs, WELL, and a Japanese one with which he is conversant, COARA, the often cited commentator on cyberspace, Howard Rheingold (1993), indicates that fear of diversity can be a threat to the Internet as well as to offline societies:

Not everyone in any society enjoys many different opinions, and in that sense, the strongest similarity between the WELL and COARA -- the willingness of the online population to tolerate wide diversity of opinion -- might turn out to be a limiting factor of the medium's growth. The present state of porosity between the boundaries of different online groups on the Net might be an artifact of the early stages of the medium -- fragmentation, hierarchization, rigidifying social boundaries, and single-niche colonies of people who share intolerances could become prevalent in the future (207; see also 273).

Now that we have established a parallel between Rushdie's novel and the Internet, we can develop the particulars, including the threats to the porosity of the Internet that Rheingold mentions, and see what light they shed upon the ontological status of democracy.


The Internet as "Virtual Reality"

Part of the reason the Internet can operate for us as an epoché concerns its status in relation to reality: it is often referred to as "virtual" instead of "actual"; like Rushdie's fiction, it places us outside the world of everyday events and presumably provides us with a bird's eye view of the latter. However, the meaning of "virtual" in cyberdiscourse is ambiguous - it ranges from a simple contrast between the real and the imaginary to ethical and religious speculations. With respect to the contrast between the real and the imaginary, Heim (1993) claims that the virtual is that which "makes us feel as if we were dealing directly with physical or natural realities" (133). His emphasis is on the "as if" quality of the virtual or, in the context of cyberspace, the "informational equivalent of things": the virtual must be similar to the actual world and yet different enough from it in order to "maintain an aura of imaginary reality" (133). The extent to which the meaning of this "aura" can be stretched is captured in Benedikt's religious and ethical treatment of cyberspace as a relation between Eden and a "Heavenly City." He claims that the visionary projects of architectural history, including cyberspace,

are attempts at physically realizing what is properly a cultural archetype, something belonging to no one and yet everyone, an image of what would adequately compensate for, and in some way ultimately justify, our symbolic and collective expulsion from Eden. [These projects] represent the creation of a place where we might re-enter God's graces. Consider: Where Eden (before the Fall) stands for our state of innocence, indeed ignorance, the Heavenly City stands for our state of wisdom, and knowledge; where Eden stands for our intimate contact with material nature, the Heavenly City stands for our transcendence of both materiality and nature; where Eden stands for the world of unsymbolized, asocial reality, the Heavenly City stands for the world of enlightened human interaction, form and information. . . . Thus, while the biblical Eden may be imaginary, the Heavenly City is doubly imaginary: once, in the conventional sense, because it is not actual, but once again because even if it became actual, because it is information, it could come into existence only as a virtual reality, which is to say, only 'in the imagination' (Benedikt 2000, 38).

Although Wilbur (2000) does not endorse Benedikt's sanguine attitude toward the religious and ethical significance of cyberspace, he points out some of the meanings of 'virtual' that might have encouraged Benedikt's and other cyberspace enthusiasts' hyperbolic comparisons between the Internet and heavenly cities. He notes, for example, that 'virtual' includes the ethical meaning of 'virtue' and even "a religious world view where power and moral goodness are united in virtue" (47). Moreover, Wilbur mentions another characteristic of virtual reality that will prove very important for our own analysis later on: its seemingly miraculous ability, as something nonactual, to produce effects, such as the "realistic" imaginary worlds that populate the Internet or the relatively disembodied relationships that denizens of the Internet enjoy (47-48). We will see that this type of virtuality also indicates a dimension of the actual world - one that, paradoxically, is responsible for both the actuality of at least some regions of that world and for the virtual world of cyberspace.

Besides the Internet, virtual reality includes other provinces of cyberspace, for example, Web sites and sensory worlds created from information. These sensory worlds are often taken to be the proper referent of the term "virtual reality." They are computer generated scenes that one can enter and navigate, as if one were inside them (Rheingold 1991, 112-113). We will restrict our discussion of virtual reality to the meaning it has in relation to the Internet. Part of the reason for this is that the more cyberspace approximates the experience of offline or "real" life, the more it loses its advantage as an epoché or bracketing of the actual world [2]. Within the Internet itself, we will limit ourselves to text-based social systems in which participants may either exchange messages with one another (e-mail, discussion lists, Usenet, BBSs and text chat) or construct a communal area in which their "avatars" or Internet personas can interact via their texts "as if" they were in the spatial equivalent of the actual world. These constructed worlds or Multi-User Domains (MUDs) constitute the parameters for the participants' textually-based emotive as well as cognitive interactions [3].


The Internet as a "Dialogical Space"

In The Virtual Community, Rheingold (1993) refers to online exchanges as dialogues that occur in a social or cognitive rather than a geographic place (61). He mentions several aspects of these dialogues that differentiate them from their offline counterparts. Most obviously, the geographically dispersed group of interlocutors on the Internet use the written rather than the verbal word as their conversational medium (180); yet they can accomplish these exchanges with a speed that rivals verbal conversations, and are therefore different from letter writing. Moreover, actual words used in verbal conversations disappear after they are said or fade from one's memory; online exchanges, in contrast, have the form of a "write-once-read-forever mode of communication" (61). Additionally, the organization of many MUDs into specific "conferences" - hierarchically ordered (categories and sub-categories) and bearing descriptive names (news, movies, pets, etc.) - ensures that the preserved dialogues can also serve as a database to which participants can return for various kinds of information (61). Rheingold also points out that the rhythm of Internet talk can make it a "leveler": the "living database" provided by participants in a MUD, the immediately retrievable record of what has been said, permits participants to comment on a previously recorded line of communication whenever they want. Participants can therefore work at different speeds (62), and people with different intellectual styles - fast or hesitant, sophisticated or ordinary, factual or speculative, reserved or gregarious - are therefore more likely to have an equal impact on online discussions than in purely offline exchanges. Most of us have experienced how people from socio-economic, educational, cultural, national, or generational backgrounds different from our own can provide us with thoughts or manners of expression that interrupt and transform our own. The structure of the Internet can increase this sort of cross-pollination along with its valorization of diversity. A Nietzschean "eternal fleeing and seeking each other again of many gods, as the happy controverting of each other, conversing again with each other, and converging again of many gods" (Nietzsche 1968, 309) does not have to result in the self-destructive elitism that Nietzsche also seems to have endorsed and that is part of many viewpoints promoting communication as the central dimension of human existence.

Beside introducing the dialogic features of the Internet that we have just considered, Rheingold (1993) also comments in several places that a desire to amplify human communication converted what was initially taken as an information database into a space for dialogue and community (66-67; 220; see also Jordan 1999, 38). Taking these considerations together, the Internet as an epoché highlights what might be overlooked in the offline world's extensive involvement with non-linguistic institutional structures and practices: that society is primarily a dialogical body. Participants in the Internet exists as dialogical partners, as written linguistic exchanges with one another. Each partner responds to a specific person or to a group of invisible interlocutors. Because one's understanding of an utterance is inseparable from one's way of responding to it, and because that response anticipates possible rejoinders from the interlocutor who issued the original utterance, the dialogue is like a linked chain. Once it has begun, and in the Internet world it has always already begun, it sets up a trajectory that its initiators must then follow -- or break off only to find themselves in another dialogic exchange on a different trajectory. To reiterate our conclusion once more: the Internet puts into relief what is also true of the actual world -- that we exist as participants in a dialogue. That which separates us into distinct interlocutors -- the dialogue -- simultaneously binds us together.


The Internet and "Voices"

a) Voice and identity

What are we as participants in these dialogues on the Internet? Because we do not see each other's bodies, we are primarily our "voices." Unlike television, where visual images of actual bodies are present, or the radio or the telephone, where the vocal quality of voices remind us of the bodily form of our existence, the Internet presents us as "thinkers and transmitters of ideas and feeling beings" (Rheingold 1993, 26). Many commentators have praised how our invisibility on the Internet brackets the sort of social cues - socio-economic status, race, gender, physical disabilities - that unfairly diminish or enhance one's audibility in the actual world. Others sees this supposed neutrality as a myth (Burkhalter 1999, O'Brien 1999), and some think this neutrality is undesirable if it is more than a myth - that it is an escape from the social issues we should confront head on if we are to ever alleviate or solve them (Robins 2000, 84, 89, 91; Sardar 2000, 744). For our immediate purposes, however, the Internet does focus us on our status as voices and summons us to recognize how important this aspect of our existence is in the actual world.

Our voice is our identity. How are identities established on the Internet? Because we are not physically present on the Internet, and because we can present many different personas there (a topic that we will take up shortly), the individual voices that make up a cybercommunity are often referred to as "avatars" (Jordan 1999, 59, 67). An avatar, in turn, is established and stabilized through an "account name," that is, an e-mail address, the "content" of a posting (message), and a "signature" that may be included within the posting, usually as the last line (Donath 1999; see also Jordan 1999, 67-79). Donath (1999) spells out a number of ways in which the account name establishes an avatar's identity. Besides its simple repeatability, the account name includes a "domain" (in "," for example, the domain is "duq" or Duquesne University); domains of this sort can indicate institutional affiliation, social status, or technical status (for example, Donath points out that America Online or "AOL" suggests to many netizens that the sender has a consumer as opposed to a technical or community orientation in relation to the Internet, 2000, 36); they can even announce the desire to be anonymous ("," to use Donath's example). Like account names, signatures (one's real name, Web address, or logo) can reveal information about the user's offline identity as well as help stabilize the avatar's identity within the online community. But the most important part of the avatar's identity is usually the content of the messages associated with the avatar. Donath says that this content gives us a sense of the writer's "voice" (1999, 38), and Jordan claims that it exhibits the writer's "style" (1999). For example, an avatar can manifest an authoritative or pedantic voice or style; or engage in "trolling" (purposely making false or naive comments in order to test or provoke a response in another netizen) or in "flaming" (verbally attacking another participant on the Internet); or use abbreviations that suggest the avatar's online group affiliation or level of online cool (Donath 1999, 38-40).

b) Voices as social forces

Donath and Jordan emphasize the specific signs by which others can identity avatars. But another aspect of the identity of avatars is their voice in the full sense of that term: not just indices such as their account names, signatures, and use of certain abbreviations, or even the immediate contents of their postings, but the discourses or viewpoints that set the parameters for the contributions of these avatars to the dialogues of which they are a part. This use of 'voice' is closer to Nietzsche's notion of "value-creating powers" (1967, 153), Foucault's of "power/knowledge regimes" (1977, 27; 1978, 95, 98), Lyotard's of "genres of discourse" (1988 ix, 14, 67), and Bakhtin's of "social languages" or "languages of heteroglossia" (1981 288, 291). In all these cases, discourses establish the identity of, and set agendas for, the subjects, objects, and events that simultaneously make these discourses possible. Moreover, each of these discourses or voices contest and are contested by the rest for audibility within the dialogical community. The key question about any avatar, then, is "who" speaks, that is, with which voice is the avatar associated, as indirectly indicated by the content that accompanies the avatar's account name, signature, and stylistic quirks? For example, in political debates on and concerning the Internet, is an avatar articulating a libertarian or a communitarian viewpoint? A technocratic, a humanistic, or, remembering Benedijk's remarks, a religious discourse? Sometimes the voice in play is not recognized by any of the participants; but it nonetheless has its effects, right away or down the line, on the development of the dialogue. Indeed, one of main goals of critique might be recast as identifying and evaluating the voice which is being articulated in a given context.

c) The virtual dimension of voices

Besides highlighting the centrality of dialogue and voices in offline as well as online existence, the Internet as epoché also makes us aware that voices have a "virtual" as well as an "actual" dimension. Online, we see the same avatar associated with variable content, often with a displayable record of past and present postings. Because the voice of an avatar is anchored in its account address (a part of the actual articulation displayed before us), and because the Internet at least temporarily brackets the offline person to whom we would normally attribute this avatar and its comments, we recognize that the actual online content has an invisible or virtual dimension and that this dimension is the source of the avatar's varying, indeed potentially infinite, but identifiable postings. We recognize, in other words, that the online voices have both a virtual and actual dimension. Because the virtual dimension exists always as the "other side" of its manifest content, it cannot exist in separation from this content: its being is to give rise to, to actualize itself as, this content or posting. It is a source that cannot be separated from what it produces, a voice that would disappear without its articulations.

Of course, if we now remove the Internet's brackets and point out that the invisible and productive side of this voice is actually the person in front of the computer screen, then the virtual dimension of the voice is separable from its online articulations. But in this case the epoché makes us recognize that these persons - ourselves - are also voices with both a virtual and actual dimension. We too, as dialogical beings, are virtual producers of, and inseparable from, our articulations, online and offline. Because these articulations are always addresses or replies to other interlocutors (even thinking "to ourselves" is a dialogue), they are the registrable and necessary outcomes of the virtual interplay, of the resonances and dissonances, among the voices that make up a community. The offline community in which we participate, then, has both a virtual and an actual dimension. The Internet, once we remove the brackets of the epoché, is an extension, a particular type of articulation, of the virtual dimension of this community. In other words, the virtual dimension of this (the "real") community is as real as its actual dimension and does not share the "as if" quality that cyberspace possesses in relation to it [4].

d) The hybrid status of voices

The Internet as epoché helps to foreground yet another aspect of the dialogical relationship among voices. Besides the "vertical" exchange of interlocutors, there is also a "lateral" interaction -- what the Russian linguist and cultural theorist Mikhail Bakhtin calls "hybridization." According to Bakhtin (1981), "[hybridization] is a mixture of two social languages within the limits of a single utterance, an encounter, within the arena of an utterance, between two different linguistic consciousnesses, separated from one another by an epoch, by social differentiation or by some other factor" (358; 304, 347). In parody, for example, the representing voice introduces its "semantic intention" or meaning into another person's discourse (the represented voice) and forces the latter to serve the representing voice's view of the subject matter in question (Bakhtin 1984, 193; 1981, 405). Similarly, worldviews such as materialism and spiritualism, or individualism and communism, are formed and make sense in light of one another, even if they do not announce these "side-long glances" explicitly (1981, 362). Dialogue, therefore, is both vertical and lateral, includes both the explicit exchange of words and the taking into account of the other voices that make up one's conversational milieu. One's voice is as much formed by the lateral type of exchange -- whether it consists in incorporating parts of another discourse or refusing to do so -- as it is by its insistence on its own place within the community. Because the Internet displays such interactions without the real world distractions that usually accompany and obscure them, it allows us to recognize the presence and the formative role of these voices upon our own discourse -- to recognize the sense in which each voice is at least partially established through its differences from the other voices that make up its environment.

e) Hybrid voices and the social basis of democracy

On the basis of what we have said about the virtual aspect of voices and the lateral relationship among voices, we can draw a conclusion that is very important for our claim that the Internet as epoché helps us see the aspects of society which provide the basis for democracy as a form of life. The written lines that appear on our computer screens are in actual space and hence are separate from one another. But the virtual dimension of the voices responsible for these lines allows us to make statements about voices that would not be reasonable if we restricted ourselves to their actual dimension or actualizations. In fact, the concept of voice, apart from any mention of the virtual and actual, permits us to speak naturally of "double voicing," adopting a "different voice," and hearing "other voices in our own." Because of this virtual aspect of voices, James Joyce can effectively describe the "phantoms" that compete for attention within the head of his character Stephen Dedalus:

While his mind had been pursuing its intangible phantoms and turning in irresolution from such pursuit he had heard about him the constant voices of his father and of his masters, urging him to be a gentleman above all things. These voices had now come to be hollowsounding in his ears. When the gymnasium had been opened he had heard another voice urging him to be strong and manly and healthy and when the movement toward national revival had begun to be felt in the college yet another voice had bidden him be true to his country and help to raise up her fallen language and tradition. In the profane world, as he foresaw, a worldly voice would bid him raise up his father's fallen state by his labours and, meanwhile, the voice of his school comrades urged him to be a decent fellow, to shield others from blame or to beg them off and to do his best to get free days for the school. And it was the din of all these hollowsounding voices that made him halt irresolutely in the pursuit of phantoms. He gave them ear only for a time but he was happy only when he was far from them, beyond their call, alone or in the company of phantasmal comrades (Joyce 1946, 332-333).

Joyce's description of Dedalus's "phantasms" helps us to state without contradiction one of the most important conclusions we can draw about the concept of voice (and of the virtual): the voices of the community "resound" in one another; each is simultaneously inside and outside, the identity and the other, of the rest. If voices resound in one another, if this is indeed a fair description of the relationship between the participants in society, then the Internet as epoché has allowed us to recognize one of the aspects of the social body which supports, and is supported by, democratic theory and practice: affirmation or valorization of ourselves is at least tacit affirmation of the existence of the other members of the community and their differences from us. Some obvious caveats - what of the existence of racists and others who stand opposed to the multi-voiced body of society - will have to be dealt with shortly. But for now we can claim that the Internet has allowed us to see that democracy reflects and can augment aspects of society, in particular, the intersecting of the community's voices.

f) Voices and non-linguistic structures

The Internet also helps reveal the relation between non-linguistic structures and voices. The Internet was originally constructed as a distributed, packet-switched network in order to ensure reliable communication between computers. The more connections between computers, the more resistant the system to breakdowns (Jordan 1999, 36-37). The more servers to help move the packets of information from computer to computer, the more easily incompatible computer systems could become part of the Internet. Besides permitting an indefinite number of computers to participate in the Internet, the architecture of the Internet, like Saleem Sinai's mind, also accommodates many-to-many communication: many can write and many can read simultaneously (Jordan 1999, 39). However, the Internet could just as easily have been (and almost was) balkanized at its inception, that is, it could have developed as a set of unconnected systems or a many-to-one system (Shiva and his knees) rather than as the global Internet (Jordan 1999, 38, 45).

These two possible architectures, the democratic and the feudal, are equally voices despite their non-linguistic structure. They are voices for two reasons. First, although non-linguistic, these architectures are always and necessarily accompanied by talk about their design, implementation, operation, and value. Their relation to discourse of this sort means that they are "self-reflective," that is, they can issue comments about themselves. It also means that they, like purely linguistic discourse, establish the status of the subjects involved with them (e.g., democratic or feudal subjects) as well as that of the objects (i.e., account addresses, cyber "rooms," and other ordered signs) of the domain in which they operate. Second, they are voices because they exist as rivals for guiding computer mediated communication. In other words, they are contesting voices.

By making these two aspects of its architectures apparent to us, the Internet allows us to see the sense in which our public institutions and economies are intertwined with linguistic practices and count as voices. Each society is an interplay of different types of institutions (for example, secret - the CIA or FBI - and open - congress) and of economical structures (for example, profit and non-profit, private and governmental, enterprises). These structures vie for greater saliency in society and establish the subjects that service and resist them as well as the objects and values that populate their domains. Moreover, our bodies are our actions and also stand as signs of our physical, social, and other types of status in society. They are therefore always part of a voice and the interplay of voices.

g) Voices and subjects

We can use the term "social language" to designate the combination of institutional structures and lingusitic discourse [5]. Insofar as these social languages are the "infrastructure" of voices, we may feel that voices are anonymous forces that subordinate us to them. We may be willing to accept this subordination in the case of online avatars, but resist the idea that it also holds for the offline subjects who create the avatars. The notion of voice, however, also suggests that the relation between subjects and voices entails neither separation nor subordination, neither an absolutely autonomous subject articulating itself nor a completely anonymous voice working its "will" on subjects. Instead of these alternatives, we can think of the relation between subjects and voices as if a double conversion has always already taken place: subjects convert the social languages of the community into an interplay among voices, and, simultaneously, these voices (converted social languages) establish the parameters of the subjects' existence and their status as participants in the multi-voiced social body. Because of this mutual conversion, we (the subjects) are the interior of voices that are ours, and yet these voices are always ahead of us, immersed in their dialogic relations with one another. Because these voices are "ahead of us," we always have more to say or see than our immediate utterances and perceptions suggest; we are always more than we know. At the same time, these voices are inseparable and unspecifiable apart from the types of things we articulate, experience, and do. We are too much the voices that we articulate for one to say that we are subordinate to them; and they are too much ahead of us, bound up with one another, for one to claim that we are in complete control of them or that we could ever know them, and hence ourselves, exhaustively.

This view of the relation between subjects and voices, in conjunction with the claim that voices include both non-linguistic structures and linguistic discourse as well as the subjects who articulate the latter, promises a remedy to the "mechanistic" versus "voluntaristic" debate that plagued traditional Marxism's theoretical split between a base-structure and a super-structure. For the split has been absorbed into voices that bear both the anonymity of the base-structure and the more personal aura or "consciousness" of the super-structure. Foucault also subordinates the subject to an anonymous set of dispersed relations, "power." So here too the notion of voice incorporates those relations into an interplay of forces that have both an anonymous and a personalized or human side. In other words, the notion of society as a multi-voiced body restores a "quasi-humanism" but without the subject-centered world that the poststructuralists have deconstructed, genealogized, or otherwise decentered [6].


The Internet and New Voices

In bracketing the actual world, the Internet allows us to see how prolific the interplay of voices is with respect to heterogeneity. The Internet has this potency because it grants audibility to voices that are muffled or silenced in actual society. This audibility in turn brings about modifications in standard discourses and produces new voices. This increased audibility is due to several reasons. We have already mentioned an obvious one: the Internet's "populism" (Graham 1999, 87), that is, its in principle accessibility to all those who desire to enter its network of participants. For now, we will overlook that only a very circumscribed group of elites currently have the necessary wealth or the technological sophistication to take advantage of the Internet.

A second source of audibility on the Internet has to do with multi-identities. Many commentators on the Internet have singled out the flexibility of identity as a chief indicator of the virtual status of the Internet. For example, Rheingold (1993) emphasizes the variety of personas that are possible in computer mediated communication (CMC):

But the authenticity of human relationships is always in question in cyberspace, because of the masking and distancing of the medium, in a way that is not in question in real life. Masks and self-disclosures are part of the grammar of cyberspace, the way quick cuts and intense images are part of the grammar of television. The grammar of CMC media involves a syntax of identity play: new identities, false identities, multiple identities, exploratory identities, are available in different manifestations of the medium (148) [7].

To create a new identity on the Internet, one has only to invent a new avatar and develop the content one wishes to go with it. In relation to identity proliferation, there are a number of fascinating and now well-known stories: Julie the disabled woman who was actually neither disabled nor a female; Dorion Sagan who, from 35 year old male, to 22 year old female, to 28 year old hermaphrodite, to . . ., achieved the identity of constantly changing identity (Jordan 1999, 63-66; see Stone 2000). If we remain within the bracketing conditions of the Internet, then no one is actually changing identity: there is just the appearance of new avatars. If we take advantage of our ability to peek behind the avatars and the Internet, we can say that the Internet provides an opportunity for some of a subject's many voices to gain greater audibility than they might under the hegemony of the voice dominant for that subject in his or her social niche. On this interpretation, the Internet is permitting an intensification of the interplay among the voices of the community (and hence among the voices at play within subjects) by increasing the audibility of social languages that are marginalized in actual society [8].

The intensification of the interplay among voices also produces new voices. When we hear other discourses, we incorporate parts of them into our own discourse or find ourselves readjusting the hierarchical order of some of our discursive practices in order to accommodate - to understand and respond to - these discourses. For example, writings about cyberspace bring the notion of "virtual" into the foreground and consequently increases its relative saliency in a discourse (ours) about "voices" and society as a "multi-voiced body." Similarly, the philosophical discourse known as "poststructuralism" (a variant of "postmodernism") is a new voice. Resonating within it, however, are two philosophical strands that it simultaneously incorporates and differs from: existentialism's emphasis upon freedom and novelty and structuralism's emphasis upon the priority of fixed structures (e.g., the synchronic structures of Saussure's la langue) over the intentionality of subjects. These strands or voices still resound and contest with one another within poststructuralism, that is, within a view that emphasizes the novelty produced by interacting "structures" (e.g., Lyotard's "genres of discourse" and "differends," or Foucault's dynamic "power-resistance" couplet, or Derrida's "differance" and its deconstructive force) rather than by autonomous subjects. The mutual agitation of these two strands in poststructuralism is also supported by the degree to which one poststructuralist (Foucault) will emphasize how the "epistemes" of his earlier "archaeological" period and the "power/knowledge regimes" of his later "genealogical" period determine the identities of subjects; and then at still a later point in his work, his "ethical" period, will valorize the ability of subjects to create new identities, while nonetheless retaining the family resemblance he shares with other poststructuralists. In other words, each voice is a dynamic hybrid of contesting voices, and the "lead social language" or organization of social languages in a new voice is novel relative to the other voices at play within it. Similarly, our own view of society as a (metamorphosing) multi-voiced body oscillates now in favor of its modernist Marxist and critical theory discursive strand and now in favor of its Nietzschean and postmodernist elements. It is born of the contest between these two discourses, and they remain alive within and continually productive, and disruptive, of it. The new voice, in turn, is a rival to each of them. It is, in short, neither reducible to nor a closed synthesis of its two contesting strands [9].

The Internet as epoché highlights the production of new voices in ways besides the fluidity of identity in its domain. For example, the Internet permits the construction of "prosthetic egos" or "mechanized subjectivity" (Ippolito 1997, 69). A prosthetic ego is a cyberagent that learns one's tastes for music, artworks, or other cultural productions and then augments them further. One enters the Internet (actually, in this case, the World Wide Web) and rank-orders the sites that the cyberagent presents; after a number of repetitions or events in which the user adventitiously "trains" the cyberagent, it is able to deliver more and more Web sites that fit and expand upon the user's tastes. In order to ensure that this technology does not undermine the cross-pollination that comes from actual-world dialogue, one can "breed" hybrid prosthetic egos. That is, one can splice the program code from one cyberagent or prosthetic ego with that of a prosthetic ego that has been trained to learn a very different taste in the same field; the resulting hybrid or "hybridized voice" would then introduce the users of the two separate prosthetic egos to radically new alternatives and perhaps modify their social languages or end up dominating the organization of their voices (cf. Ippolito 1997, 73). It is even possible that new prosthetic egos could be generated mechanically, on the model of natural selection,[10] and enrich culture beyond the limitations imposed by the dominant human tastes in a given epoch (73-74). Ultimately, of course, the reception of such hybrid products, as well as the generation of them by the mixing of human users' prosthetic egos, will be more prolific in actual societies that are open to heterogeneity, and will reflect the poverty of cultures that are closed to innovation. Once more, the Internet that is teaching us about society is still the product of a society more basic than it. This would only change if cyberagents become autonomous and no longer dependent upon human societies, or if a hybrid entity, the actual society plus an Internet now equal to it, a cyborg or "post-human" community, absorbed and replaced the current ontological relation between the two [11].

There is yet a third way in which the Internet as epoché foregrounds the proliferation of new voices. The Internet has been described as, at least ideally, a "gift economy," as opposed to a "commodity economy" (Kollock 1999; Barbrook, 1999; Bays, 1999; Rheingold 1993, 59). In a gift economy, one freely provides information without the expectation of a direct, immediate return of a favor. Nonetheless, there is the anticipation that others will also freely provide such a gift even if it is offered to the Internet community rather than to oneself specifically. In the case of commodities, in contrast, there is no obligation of this sort after money has changed hands, and there is no value attached to the person who has provided the commodity; nor is the exchange an expression of any sort of "solidarity." On the Internet, the presents of the gift economy are also "public goods": they are "nonrival" (your use of the information does not deprive others from using it) and "nonexcludable" (others can't be prevented from using the information or good) (Kollock 1999, 223).

Putting aside the motivating factors and conditions for the ubiquity of the gift economy on the Internet, [12] we can note that this economy - "copyduty" rather than "copyright" (Lessig 1999) - is conducive to the sort of exchanges that produce modifications of discourse and new voices. The gift economy is therefore an example of what Nietzsche (in the voice of his creation, Zarathustra) called the "gift giving virtue":

Verily, I have found you out, my disciples: you strive, as I do, for the gift-giving virtue. What would you have in common with cats and wolves? This is your thirst: to become sacrifices and gifts yourselves; and that is why you thirst to pile up all the riches in your soul. Insatiably your soul strives for treasures and gems, because your virtue is insatiable in wanting to give. You force all things to and into yourself that they may flow back out of your well as the gifts of your love. Verily, such a gift-giving love must approach all values as a robber; but whole and holy I call this selfishness (1968, 186-187).

By receiving and transforming the information gifts of others, by practicing this Nietzschean and positive form of "selfishness," Internet users become gifts themselves to give back to the Internet community. In our terms, listening to other voices brings about changes in our own dominant discourse and thus contributes new versions of our old language and even, when the change is radical enough, new voices, to the community.

The Internet as epoché has helped us see that human communities are dialogical exchanges among voices; that these voices resound in one another - that each is simultaneously inside and outside, the identity and the other, of the rest; that exchanges among subjects produce new voices and therefore exemplify a gift-giving virtue and a cyber version of a gift economy. Because the voices of the community are what they are in light of one another, and because the creative tension among them serendipitously creates new discourses or voices, these voices are continually readjusting to one another and thus continually modifying their identity. We can therefore summarize the results that our "cyberepoché" has revealed so far by stating that society is a metamorphosing multi-voiced body - that the being of this body is its metamorphosis.

The Internet as epoché has also indicated that democracy is a form of life that reflects two aspects of society as a multi-voiced body: the intrinsic interrelation of voices and the continuous creation of new voices. We can claim, therefore, that if democracy as a procedure is to conform to democracy as a form of life, it must promote dialogic exchange or "hearing" one another and encourage the production of new ideas or discourses, new forms of existence - new voices and society's metamorphosis. In affirming the interplay among (as opposed to the mere plurality of) these voices, including the sense in which each voice is both the identity and the other of the rest, democratic procedures are precluded from sacrificing the audibility of any voice on the alter of the God of creativity; or creativity and the interplay conducive to it on the liberal platform of mere plurality and individual rights. We can therefore coin a "formula" for the political principle that best summarizes a procedural democracy that supports democracy as this form of life: "the interplay of equally audible voices." This principle captures the liberals' and proceduralists' demand for free and equal participation in public discussion. But it bases that demand on a vision of the "good" -- of the interplay of heterogeneous voices that continually introduces changes into the community (i.e., new versions of discourses and new voices). This "communitarian" vision of the good [13] - of democracy as a form of life - is, moreover, a reflection and augmentation of society's metamorphosing multi-voiced body, and therefore not just the expression of a hope.


The Darker Side of the Internet: "Oracles"

Thus far we have emphasized the laudable aspects of society that the Internet brings into focus. But many commentators acknowledge that cyberspace and the Internet have a "darker side" [14]. A quick catalogue of these anomalies would include: excessive "flaming" and hate speech, deceptive avatars, gender and race bias, commercialism, elitism, balkanization, technocrat control, Panoticism or pervasive surveillance by the government or by corporations, and escapism [15]. In other words, all the destructive aspects of society that come to plague Rushdie's "Midnight's Children National Conference" also encroach upon the Internet's virtual communities.

In light of these threats, the Internet as epoché reveals a social body in which two tendencies are in constant conflict with one another. We can borrow terminology from Bakhtin (1981) and call these two tendencies "monoglossia" and "heteroglossia" (1981 271-72). Monoglossia is the tendency toward a "master language" or what we will call an "oracle": domination by a single voice or social discourse -- by the "word of God," ethnic or racial "purity," patriarchy, Capital, or any other discourse that precludes significant revision of its main premisses no matter what its articulators hear or could hear from others. "Heteroglossia" is the opposite of monoglossia: it is the tendency for a social language to stratify itself into a plethora of new discourses.

Bakhtin uses a third term "dialogized heteroglossia" (1981, 272-73) in order to refer to the tendency of heteroglossia - of diverse social languages - to resist the continual attempt of a master language to subordinate them under its own narrow strictures. Bakhtin's dialogized heteroglossia is akin to Foucault's notion of "resistance," Lyotard's "differend," Derrida's "differance," and to other depictions by postmodernists of an endemic struggle against totalizing systems. We can amend Bakhtin's formulation of this conflict by noting that it is not between unity (monoglossia) and plurality (heteroglossia); it is instead a conflict between monoglossia or "oracles" and the interplay of voices, the metamorphosing multi-voiced body itself. On this view, oracularization can take two forms: either that of an encompassing master language or that of a plurality of exclusive communities (heteroglossia without dialogue).

The Internet involves both types of oracularization. The all encompassing type of oracularization takes several forms: the threat from Capital and the reduction or restriction of dialogue to information about consumer products - the "commodification" of the Internet; [16] the conversion of the Internet into an arm of totalitarian government - an Orwellian "Big Brother" - by means of a Panopticonal surveillance that the Internet makes possible (Rheingold 1998, 289-297); the transformation of the Internet into a technocracy, that is, a realm controlled by experts because of the increasing complexity that is required if the Internet, paradoxically, is to be more accessible to people (Jordan 1998, 128-130); the Internet as a theocracy or heavenly city in which all minds melt into one, that is, into one immortal master language or monotonous Godhead (see Jordan 1998, 186-187; cf. Kurzweil 1999). The second type of oracularization concerns the balkanization of the Internet into a plurality of groups each with a different "shared interest" (see, for instance, Dahlberg, 2000). This type amounts to heteroglossia without the dialogue, to a plurality rather than an interplay of heterogeneous voices, to a scattered collection of oracles. It would, in other words, be just as antithetical to society's multi-voiced body and to democracy as its monoglossic cousin.

The reason for both forms of oracles is overdetermined. A number of theories - psychological, social, economical, and political - contribute to an explanation of this tendency with respect to both the Internet and the actual society in which the Internet is rooted. But some commentators have mentioned one aspect of the Internet that explains oracularization in terms that are congenial to our view of society as a metamorphosing multi-voiced body: fear of being overwhelmed by the welter of information and dialogue sites or communities in cyberspace (Jordan 1999, 117-127; Rheingold 1993, 207). There is some irony in this, because other cyberthinkers have suggested, with considerable reason, that the Internet is an escape from the messiness and diversity of offline life (Robbins 2000, 89, 91).



This fear of being overwhelmed from within is partially based on the need of each person and each society for at least a minimal unity or identity in order to "reproduce," that is, maintain itself. When this unity is threatened, the community tends to restrict the number of voices it will hear and the intensity of interplay and novelty that it will tolerate. In the case of society as a multi-voiced body, unity or identity can be provided by a voice that affirms such a body and promotes the political and democratic principle compatible with it, the interplay of equally audible voices. But an anxiety is harbored in such a community: the fear of being overwhelmed by the voices resounding within it or by the community's continual metamorphosis. When this anxiety is exacerbated by some other threat to the community, the tendency is often - all too often, as history indicates - to raise one of the community's voices to the level of an oracle and to limit the number and audibility of the other voices in the community; to replace the reality of hybridity with the nihilistic ideal of purity; to limit the creation of new voices and the degree of the community's metamorphosis; to deny the community's being and the source of our voices. The oracle's valorization of a strict identity increases the original low-grade anxiety and can lead to an extreme, irrational suppression of any social discourse that does not conform to the community's oracle - to the mass murders, mutilations, and rapes that have occurred throughout history and that most recently have been committed in the name of "ethnic cleansing."

If society is the type of body that the Internet as epoché indicates, then the role of critical thought, or of "critique" in the strict sense of the term, is to expose oracles as the voices of the narrow interests and fears that gave birth to them and are now concealed within a hyperbolic and universalizing rhetoric. This critique of oracles is to be undertaken both offline and online, and is to be done in the name of its own origin and interest, the metamorphosing multi-voiced body of society and the democratic procedures that realize, to the degree that it is possible, the ideal of an interplay of equally audible voices. Philosophy (born from and bearing the traces of popular social dialogues) attempts to articulate this ideal, but only participants in local circumstances can work out the particular meaning of it that suits their situation. Nonetheless, the notion of democracy embedded in this ideal would tend to support maintaining the Internet and actual society as a "public space" rather than a commodified realm (including the subordination of capitalism to a gift economy as much as practically possible); copyduty over copyright; engaging across communities rather than merely within them; augmenting political dialogue rather than non-deliberative plebiscites; curbing hate speech and "flaming" insofar as they are targeted against less powerful groups in society and preclude an interplay of perspectives; making Internet experts/managers ultimately answerable to elected representatives of the people; and using cyberspace to enhance rather than to replace actual society and democracy. In other words, the general direction with respect to policy for the Internet should always favor the equal audibility of its participants and the creation of new voices - while ensuring that the Internet is able to reproduce itself as an open-access technology.

Affirmation or valorization of society's multi-voiced body carries political implications for the type of audibility granted to some voices. This valorization does not extend to those of its voices that deny its being through their refusal in principle to hear other participants. As we have just explained, these oracular voices have been produced as an aberration rather than an affirmation of the multi-voiced body. Therefore, our valorization of society's multi-voiced body entails inviting racists, sexists, and others who practice this sort of nihilism to enter into dialogue with us; but it also demands that we oppose them as policy-making voices for our society.[17] Endorsement of the democratic principle of the interplay of equally audible voices, in other words, counsels that we not accept an oracle as society's guiding discourse.

But is the notion of a metamorphosing multi-voiced body and its democratic principle itself an oracle? Does it endorse what the Internet as epoché and Rushdie's children of midnight reveal about society only to implicitly repeal this knowledge in the name of a view that ultimately repudiates the interplay of heterogeneous voices? The reply to this question is "no," for the view of society as a metamorphosing multi-voiced body is an anti-oracle as much as it is an oracle. To affirm it - to affirm an interplay that metamorphoses the community - is to put at risk one's particular articulation of this notion and principle. This vision of society and democracy, therefore, functions as an unfinalizable "formula" that, through its lack of saturation and its continual solicitation of comment, contributes to the very interplay it sponsors. In the terminology of the Internet, it can only ever be an avatar, but one that remembers the body that gave rise to it. It can only ever be Saleem Sinai's renewed plea for the other children of midnight to enter once more the space he has provided for their "national conference."

Rushdie's novel and the Internet as epoché have therefore revealed the aspects of society that provide an impetus to democracy; aspects that democracy, as a form of life, must reflect, and, as a procedure, must protect and augment. Beneath the formal version of democracy, and contravening the colonization of it by Capital, technocrats, and other oracles inimical to it, lies the shape of society populated by voices that resound in and contest with one another for audibility; a society that is a metamorphosing multi-voiced body. Each voice is simultaneously outside and inside, the identity and the other, of the rest. It is to this type of "virtual reality" that democracy continually makes its appeal and that the Internet, in its idealized form, brings into the foreground for us.End of Article

About the Author

Fred Evans is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Coordinator for the Center of Interpretive and Qualitative Research at Duquesne University. He is the author of Psychology and Nihilism: A Genealogical Critique of the Computational Model of Mind (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1993) and co-editor of Chiasms: Merleau-Ponty's Notion of "Flesh" (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2000). He has published articles on a number of continental thinkers in relation to issues concerning psychology, politics, and technology. He is currently working on another book, The Multi-Voiced Body: Society, Communication, and the Age of Diversity.


I would like to thank Chris Werry for the generous help he gave me in suggesting material related to this paper.


1. Wittgenstein (1953) uses the term "form of life" to refer to "language games" and the rules that govern the moves one can make within such a game (5, 8). Appropriating Wittgenstein's term, Winner (1986) has applied "form of life" to technologies (11-12). Referring to technologies as forms of life emphasizes how they shape us -- their users -- and the way things appear to us. Clearly, the term can be applied in the same way to the political organization of a society. Our endeavor is to find what form of life democracy should approximate.

2. See Graham (1999, 149). Heim (1993) shows how virtual reality of this sort can lead to interesting reflections on our place in the offline world. This form of virtual reality, however, is less immediately pertinent than the Internet to the issues concerning democracy that we are considering in this chapter.

3. For a description of the different types of text-based online communication systems, as well as a discussion of systems that are multi-media and provide "graphical worlds," see Kollock and Smith (1999). For a lively introduction to MUDs, see Rhinegold (1993, 145-175). For a distinction between the more inclusive notion of cyberspace and the narrower domain of the Internet, e.g., cyberspace includes exclusive "intranets" as well as the open-admission Internet, see Jordan (1999, 170-171). Jordan also distinguishes a third category, "the informational space of flows," which refers to "the aspects of cyberspace that leap across the barrier between online and offline life" and are essential to the functioning of "informational socio-economies" (171). These flows are global, in real time, and constant; they therefore differ from the more punctuated rhythms of e-mail, MUDs, and similar groupings within the Internet that, despite this difference, are constructed out of cyberspace and the informational space of flows.

4. The notion of "virtual" as productive of actuality and necessarily related to its actualization is elaborated by Deleuze (1994, 211-214). Fortunately, the notion of voice already suggests something that is virtual becoming actual or, in this case, spoken and heard. Virtual and actual are both real and two sides of the same reality. The claim that cyberspace has an "as if" quality in relation to the "real" community and not vice-versa is open to classical Derridean deconstruction: the written word of cyberspace is closer to or more indicative of the iterability that all meaningful utterances possess and is therefore more real than the "real" world (see, for example, Derrida's deconstruction of Husserl's theory of signs, 1973). For the criticism that Derrida's claim holds only within an artificial or formal context, see Evans (1993, 180-187).

5. Bakhtin (1981) also uses the term "social language"; but he restricts it to linguistic discourse (291, 358).

6. Technically speaking, the notion of basestructure incorporates what Marx calls the "mode of production," which encompasses both the "material forces of production" and the "social relations of production"; the superstructure includes both "ideology" and the state apparatus and is assumed to be determined to one degree or another by the mode of production. I have worked out the relation between Marx's view and the notion of voice in more detail elsewhere (Evans (1991).

7. Robins (2000), who is very skeptical of the political and cultural implications of valorizing this fluid identity, nonetheless summarizes very well what its proponents say about such identity: "In [the] accommodating reality [of cyberspace], the self is reconstituted as a fluid and polymorphous entity. Identities can be selected or discarded almost at will, as in a game or a fiction" (80).

8. By substituting "increased audibility of a voice" for "creation of a new identity" in this context, we escape the absurdity of creation ex nihilo. Postmodernists are often accused of the latter tendency. Michel Foucault, for example, declares that we must both free ourselves from identities that have been foisted upon us by the power relations in our society and "create ourselves as a work of art" (1997a, 262). Rather than possessing a fixed identity, an authentic human nature, we create, or have created for us, our various identities. But even Foucault insists equally that these new identities are not created out of thin air and that they are limited by the milieu in which they are constructed: even when we constitute ourselves in an active fashion, the practices that are associated with our new identity are based on "models that [we] find in [our] culture and [that are] proposed, suggested, imposed upon [us] by [our] culture, [our] society, and [our] social group" (1997b, 291). For Foucault, indeed, we are always shaped by a "power/knowledge regime," either through our role within it or our resistance to it (1977, 27; 1978, 95, 98; see also Evans, forthcoming).

9. I have worked out a more complete example of this dynamic hybridity in terms of the conflict between the Mayans and Spanish during the Spanish Conquest and its more recent incarnation, the conflict between the product of the earlier struggle, the voice of the Mexican mestiza/o, and the indigenous people of Chiapas (see Evans 2000).

10. Or new discourse could be generated on the model of the chance operations that John Cage (1973) uses to construct his "diaries." For an analysis, see Woodward (1980).

11. For a discussion of these two possibilities, see Stelarc (2000), who foresees and valorizes an evolutionary movement away from the human, and Stryker (2000), who foresees and valorizes cyborgs as a new mode of human subjectivity. See also Kurzweil (1999) for a view similar to Stelarc's. For a discussion of the relation between "hybridity" and "cyborg," see Gonzàles (2000). I have elsewhere argued against the possibility of reducing intentionality and voices to computational processes, and hence against the possibility of software programs that could ensure our immortality in cyberspace. I have equated these attempts to reduce cognition to computation with a type of nihilism - Nietzsche's notion of "passive nihilism" or "nihilism of the 'Last Man'" (Evans 1993).

12. Some motivating conditions are the ease and low expense of giving out information on the Internet, anticipated reciprocity, reputation, sense of efficacy on the part of the individuals giving information, need for group affiliation, and one's attachment or commitment to the Internet community of which one is part. For a careful delineation of these motives and of other aspects of the gift economy on the Internet, in combination with case studies, see Kollock (1999). The issue of "copyduty" versus "privatized copyright" is related to the gift-economy: the former maintains that copyright holders have a legal duty to assure public access to their products, in the same way that copyright law ensures that the purchaser of, for example, a book can loan or give it to a friend or include it in the holdings of a library; "privatized" copyright, in contrast, would permit the copyright holder to use new Internet technology to block the purchaser of, for example, a piece of digitalized music, from posting it on the Internet so that the public could enjoy it free of charge (cf. Lessig 1999).

13. For the debate between communitarians and liberal proceduralists in the context of the Internet, see Dahlberg (1999), Graham (1998, 136-141), Robins 2000, 89-91), and Willson (2000). Willson (2000) provides a compelling argument both for the primacy of relations in treating the notion of community and for reminding ourselves that the Other plays a role in our own formation and that therefore we have a responsibility to the Other - a point sometimes overlooked, she feels, in the abstractness of virtual communities. Dahlberg contrasts the liberal and the communitarian views with the "deliberative view" of democracy. Dahlberg feels that the rational deliberation view of democracy overcomes the belief that the other two views have in "a self-determining subject, individual or collective," as well as the communitarians' assumption of "an already existing common good." However, the deliberative ideal of determining "a larger public purpose only through rational deliberation" (as opposed, say, to obtaining it through theocratic or technocratic judgment) is itself a vision of "an already existing common good." Our view of democracy, in contrast, admits that it is appealing to an idea of the good that reflects reality (metamorphosing multi-voiced bodies); it also valorizes dialogical exchanges whether or not they are entered into on the assumption that they must aim at mutual consent by all the participants: the new views, and changes in discourse, as well as the simple bond of dialogue itself, are often enough to justify the exchanges that produce them. The unfinalizability of our vision of the multi-voiced body, our "good," will be discussed below.

14. See Sardar 2000 - "darker side" is his expression - and Robbins 2000.

15. All of these issues are addressed in the anthologies edited by Smith and Kollock (1999) and Bell and Kennedy (2000); see also Jordan (1999) and Rheingold (1993).

16. See Rheingold 1998, 281-289. Werry (in press) provides an insightful exposition of the business community's use of rhetoric that reduces Internet participants to the status of consumers, the Internet itself to a "frontier" that needs "taming" by business interests, and a "deliberative interaction citizen model" to a more compliant "consumer model" of "power, politics, and participation."

17. "Affirmation" of the multi-voiced body does not have to be a conscious endorsement of the latter. Hearing (sincerely rather than just in a pro forma manner) and addressing others constitutes such affirmation; that is, persisting in our being as members of society's multi-voiced body is an automatic affirmation of that body.


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Paper received 10 August 2000; accepted 27 September 2000.

Copyright ©2000, First Monday

Copyright © 2008, Fred Evans

Cyberspace and the Concept of Democracy by Fred Evans
First Monday, Volume 5, Number 10 - 2 October 2000

A Great Cities Initiative of the University of Illinois at Chicago University Library.

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