Humanistic Realpolitik for a Digital Age

This week on Wednesday, I had the honor to speak to the European Parliament in a conference titled “politicians in a communications storm”. The question the parliamentarians were grappling with was how complex humanistic ideas such as the European project can be secured and developed in a world of #brexit, #therealdonaldtrump, and the #ColombianPeaceProcess. Then on Thursday, I spoke on a panel with Prof. Broy and Prof. Picot at the Fujitsu Forum in Munich on the question of how Bavaria, Germany, and Europe can shape the future of our digital network societies.

There are no simple answers and no mono-causal explanations of how we got to where we are and what needs to be done. But it is clear that the situation is serious, necessitates continuous soul-searching, and coordinated action. Here’s a write-up of my argument.

Seriousness

The change we are experiencing in how political consensus is constructed in our world societies is similar to what we experienced 500 years ago in Europe with the reformation. After Martin Luther’s blog entry on the church door in Wittenberg in 1517, it took more than 130 years until political consensus making was again stabilized with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. The combination of a new technology (be that the printing press or the internet) with new modes of thinking changes a lot in how humanity organizes.

There are three technological drivers that are changing our res publica in a way that we seriously need to search our souls on what we value and how to politick for it.

#CloudandSocialMedia: The first is a shift in the base metaphor of organization. Until very recently territorial sovereignty or boundary-drawing as originally derived from Roman private law defined how we organize humans into non-natural entities such as corporations, civil society organizations, or states. Today the network defined through the active communication channel has overtaken sovereignty as the defining principle. The network as a base metaphor is more malleable and allows new modes of governance and politics. Social media politics has new upsides such as the possibility of including the formerly marginalized and new downsides such as echo chambers, fake news, and the rule of algorithms. Fact-based, human-centric reasoning has not yet fully developed its stride in this world.

#AIandData: The second is a shift in reasoning. With the renaissance, the scientific revolution and enlightement humanity has embarked on a journey, where the human was established as central to all our inquiries and the mode of reasoning was defined as deductive. This mode of reasoning which theoretically freed humanity from the shackles of self-imposed immaturity by “daring to know” (sapere aude). Today, in juxtaposition the algorithmic mining of unstructured data allows us (or machines) to take decisions not on a deductive understanding of cause-and-effect relationships, but by trusting the power of inductively produced patterns. Combined with developments from narrow artificial intelligence to general AI and possibly super intelligence, we need not only develop ethical frameworks for non human reasoning entities, but also re-position humanity in our metaphysical universe.

#BlockchainandIoT: The third shift is a  shift in value creation. With the idea of “software eating the world” most value that is created in innovation, organization, production, marketing, and distribution has been digitized, with the Internet of things, every atom in the universe can principally be addressed and manipulated digitally. With blockchain technologies, the distribution of values, both digital and analag can be organized without centralized intermediaries. This forces any entity that has build its business model on taking the role of a Hobbesian Leviathan, be it a bank, energy company or government to reevaluate its role.

 

Soul-Searching

The closest historical analogy to the type of questions we are today confronted in world society are the political battles surrounding the Roman republic in the times of Cicero. With all his oratory acumen Cicero tried to defend the complex idea of reason, freedom, and political self-determination in a world where corruption, wars, the expansion of the empire, populism and strong men defined the age.

“For there is but one essential justice which cements society, and one law which establishes this justice. This law is right reason, which is the true rule of all commandments and prohibitions. Whoever neglects this law, whether written or unwritten, is necessarily unjust and wicked.”

Ultimately, he failed. However, in his writing he has left us with a realpolitical mode of reasoning that we can use to develop approaches to translate the societal values that are dear to us into a world circumscribed by #cloudandsocialmedia, #AIandData or #BlockchainandIoT.

“A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself. For the traitor appears not a traitor; he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments, he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation, he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city, he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to fear.”

A Call to Action

In order to defend what we value, we need to develop a clear operational strategy. The question of how complex humanistic ideas such as the European project can be secured and developed must be be addressed on three different levels, the tactical, the political-strategic, and the meta-physical.

#Tactics: As politics is decided on and between different social media platforms, we need to quickly scale up our social media teams in size and capacity. The tactical knowledge of how to engage authentically on twitter, facebook, snapchat, etc. needs to be continously be developed and updated. The arms race is on and can only be won by

#Politics: Unfortunately, today social media teams today serve as a support function. This is a big mistake. Politicians and other strategists need to fully understand the possibility spaces of network society and make their social media and cloud advisors their number one sparring partners. Only when the network is in the DNA of any strategy, will they succeed in our digitally networked world.

#Metaphysics: Only be delineating the possibility spaces of our digitally networked universe and by asking tough ontological questions on the role of humanity can we start translating that what is dear to our hearts into it. Our believes in the rule of law, redistribution, social security, equality of opportunities, the sanctioning power of statehood, and human rights need to be closely inspected, clarified, translated, politicized, defended, and further developed.

We are a privileged generation that is living on the cusp of one of the biggest transformations of humanity. The translation of the principles that make humans human into digital network society is a vocation that needs the collaboration of multiple disciplines on tactical, political, and metaphysical dimensions. It is not a specific fight against #brexit, #trump or for #peaceincolombia, but a general revolution of what it means to be human in digital network society. A daunting task that needs to be addressed step by step or in the words of Beppo Roadsweeper in Michael Ende’s Momo,

“You see, Momo,’ he told her one day, ‘it’s like this. Sometimes, when you’ve a very long street ahead of you, you think how terribly long it is and feel sure you’ll never get it swept.’

He gazed silently into space before continuing. ‘And then you start to hurry,’ he went on. ‘You work faster and faster, and every time you look up there seems to be just as much left to sweep as before, and you try even harder, and you panic, and in the end you’re out of breath and have to stop – and still the street stretches away in front of you. That’s not the way to do it.’

He pondered a while. Then he said, ‘You must never think of the whole street at once, understand? You must only concentrate on the next step, the next breath, the next stroke of the broom, and the next, and the next. Nothing else.’

Again he paused for thought before adding, ‘That way you enjoy your work, which is important, because then you make a good job of it. And that’s how it ought to be.’

There was another long silence. At last he went on, ‘And all at once, before you know it, you find you’ve swept the whole street clean, bit by bit. What’s more, you aren’t out of breath.’ He nodded to himself. ‘That’s important, too,’ he concluded.”

Let’s start sweeping the street!

19. November 2016 by Philipp
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Realpolitik nach unserem digitalen Fukushima

Aus der Verbannung in San Casciano schrieb Machiavelli am 10. Dezember 1513 an Francesco Vettori, dass er die Zeit genutzt habe ein kleines Werk zu verfassen, das den Namen de principatibus trage. In ihm gehe er der Frage nach „was ein Fürstentum ist, wie viele Gattungen es gibt, wie man sie erwirbt, wie man sie erhält, warum man sie verliert.“

Nach dem “digitalen Fukushima”, das wir mit den Enthüllungen von Edward Snowden erlebt haben, hat sich der netzpolitische Diskurs massiv verändert und das betrifft alle: die Netzpolitiker, die Verwaltungsreformer, die Open Government Community, die Akademiker und natürlich auch die Unternehmen, die unsere Zukunft gestalten wollen, ob aus dem Silicon Valley, Paris oder Berlin. Es ist an der Zeit, dass wir ein paar der Gedanken, die vor 500 Jahren gedacht worden sind, in den aktuellen Diskurs einbringen.

Der Vertrauensvorschuss, der notwendig war, global Technologien der nächsten Generation auszurollen, sei es Cloud, as-a-Service Ansätze oder das Internet-der-Dinge, ist verspielt.
Continue Reading →

10. December 2013 by Philipp
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Mastering complexity – my dinner speech in Heiligendamm

This is my Prezi from the Heiligendamm event

10. June 2013 by Philipp
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Tweeting the Revolution

Britta Glennon from the Chicago Policy Review, on our Oxford Internet Policy article:

…Philipp Mueller and Sophie van Huellen, in their article “A Revolution in 140 Characters: Reflecting on the Role of Social Networking Technologies in the 2009 Iranian Post-Election Protests,” attempt to analyze the role and impact of social media in the 2009 Tehran protests. They present two possible hypotheses for what happened: the “power-shift” hypothesis and the “media-shift” hypothesis.

The “power-shift” hypothesis argues that “many-to-many” media such as Facebook and Twitter empowers the masses, changing the power structure in society and resulting, in this case, in widespread protest. Mueller and van Huellen are skeptical of this hypothesis, arguing that social media probably did not reach the mass population within Iran…

Here’s the link to the full review. 

15. April 2013 by Philipp
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…My Keynote at E-Day 2013 in Vienna

 

 

11. April 2013 by Philipp
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Reflecting Recent Readings

The festive season allowed me to reflect on some of the books that I have been reading in 2012.

I have been trying to put my finger on the relationship between our day-to-day experiences and the more fundamental transformations our lifeworlds and societies are going through.

I was particularily fascinated by Stephan Greenblatt’s “The Swerve” (2011), a book on Poggio Bracciolini’s re-discovery of Lucretius’ (Epicurean) poem ‘On the Nature of Things’ in 1417. Greenblatt describes how this poems return to circulation changed the course of history, by influencing the founders of modern thinking. A fantastic perspective on the early days of humanism, even if it is a bit individual-centric (as rightfully pointed out by my mom).

Closer to our reality today is Florian Illies’ “1913” (2012), a book that defies traditional forms of writing fiction. Illies takes the perspective of an omniscient observer, describing from a neutral stance, chronologically the small and big events that happened to the protagonists of modernity in the months January to December 1913. By choosing his cast carefully, e.g. Oswald Spengler, Thomas Mann, Franz Kafka, Gottfried Benn, Pablo Picasso, Louis Armstrong, Oskar Kokoshka, and Adolf Hitler play bigger and smaller parts, he paints a continent that struggles with very fundamental questions of meaning, without realizing that the Damocles sword of 1914 is hanging over it.

This argument resonates with Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s epistemological manifesto “Antifragile – Things that Gain from Disorder” (2012). This erudite diatribe against main stream social science thinking argues that we are missing most of the important picture, when we ignore that what we do not dare to name: things that get stronger, when under stress. By introducing the term “antifragility” into the debate, he enables us to think about systems that become stronger, when introduced to stress and a certain amounts of randomness. This helps us, both to understand the past and gives us toolsets to think our futures. An important read, especially, for those of us interested in systems integration: His ideas about designing loosely coupled systems that allow a certain amount of randomness offers important advice for anybody building the ‘secure-open’ cloud/big data ecosystems of today/tomorrow. Could the argument be made in less than 850 pages? Probably.

This is what Krallmann/Zapp (eds.) focus on in “Bausteine einer vernetzten Verwaltung” (2012) where the bring together a group of academics, consultants, and policy maker to outline the fundamentals of a networked (Weberian) bureaucracy at the nexus between information sciences, juridical thinking, and administrative process. I was delighted to contribute a chapter on “open statecraft” to the volume, where I argue that we should think of openess as a means and not an end, in order to benefit from the potential of digitally networked systems. Just last week, I finally dared to re-read my own book “Machiavelli.net” (2012) and somehow actually enjoyed.

A book that really changed my thinking about the reality of political processes was Martin Plaut’s and Paul Holden’s “Who rules South Africa” (2012), a contemporary historical perspective on the complex political economy of this beautiful country. It’s very careful analytical approach allows the reader to understand the tension between historically grown centers of power and their cultural/institutional counterparts.

I have the hope that Don Winslow’s “Kings of Cool” (2012) and “Savages” (2010) will play a role in changing our thinking of Mexican-US relations in the long run. Its Californian’ North of the border perspective on the Marihuana trade is a foil to Roberto Bolano’s “2666” (2004) reflection on  the unsolved and ongoing serial murders of Ciudad Juárez (and on post-modern literature in general).  An interesting tidbit of an argument in the Kings of Cool was that with the return of Special Forces units from Afghanistan, the Mexican question will take a more prominent role in US policy – something Stratfor only picked up much later in the year.

Mark Owens’ memoir “No Easy Day” (2012) recounting the raid that killed Osama bin Laden was no easy read. My personal take on it was that it does give interesting insights into the bureaucracy/administration of targeted killings and it forces us to address several very hard ethical and legal dilemmas.

Ending on a lighter note, I very much enjoyed Clayton Christensen’s slightly cheesy “How will you measure your life?”  (2012), a book based on his 2010 HBS graduation speech. No matter if you fully agree with his moral stance, using such frameworks to evaluate your life, is a meaningful exercise we should all come back to from time to time. It resonated nicely with the gerontologist Karl Pillemer’s “30 Lessons for Living” (2011), advice from more than 100o Americans over the age of 65, which was given to me for my 40th Birthday.

I’d be delighted to hear from you in the comments, what books touched your hearts and made you think this year.

 

 

 

27. December 2012 by Philipp
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…on my way to Berlin

…this week will be interesting. On Tuesday, I get to speak at Germany’s premier conference on the transformation of public administration, Effizienter Staat 2012 (#estaat12). In the afternoon, I’ll present my new book machiavelli.net – strategy for our open world and in the evening we will present our edited volume “Bausteine für eine vernetzte Verwaltung.” On Wednesday, I get to hang out with Angela Merkel in the Office of the Chancelor, where CSC is teaching high school girls how to progam apps at the Girls’ Day.

23. April 2012 by Philipp
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#OpenGov in Germany, Quo Vadis?

On Tuesday, we hosted a Japanese governmental delegation at CSC in Berlin. They were on a fact-finding mission to Brussels, Berlin, Paris and London to understand European developments in Open Government. Several of Germany’s deepest thinkers on Open Government willingly shared their thoughts. Here is a quick write-up of how I see the debate evolving in Germany.

A complex crossing of historical forces

Never in the history of mankind has a public management idea spread as quickly as open government. Only three years ago, in January of 2009, President Obama signed the famous memo on open government, focusing on transparency, participation and collaboration, thereby framing the debate on how to implement social media in government for the US and the rest of the world. in 2012 more than 40+ countries on this planet are developing committments to open government: The Open Government Partnership, a multilateral agreement between governments that  (a) develop a high-level Open Government Declaration, (b) a country action plan developed with public consultation; and  (c) commit to independent reporting on their progress going forward. It reminds us of the argument on nationalism in Imagined Communities, the seminal work of Benedict Anderson (1983).
Nationality, nation-ness, and nationalism are cultural artifacts whose creation toward the end of the 18th C was the spontaneous distillation of a complex ”crossing” of discrete historical forces; but that, once created, they became ”modular,” capable of being transplanted to a great variety of social terrains, to merge and be merged with a variety of political and ideological constellations.
We live in a time, where the idea of open government, the utilization of many-to-many technologies in creating public value has become modular.

The Social Logic of Open Government

Open government builds on the technology of social media, which are  web-based and mobile technologies used to turn one-to-many mass media communication into many-to-many interactive dialogue. Open government takes this idea of many-to-many media and uses it to re-imagine public administration and public policy. As a technologically based idea, it has the potential to be implemented modularly all over the planet. However, as with any universal ideology: different legal systems, different political systems, and different administrative cultures will respond differently to its logic.

Germany as an interesting case

It is worth looking at Germany, if we are interested in how the idea of Open Government spreads around the planet, because Germany is at the same time similar and different to the US. It is a highly developed Western Country with a comparable GDP, and similar levels of internet penetration in society. However, it has a different legal system, where administrative secrets and privacy control play a much bigger role, the political system is still much more determined by party politics, and there is a strong civil service culture in public administration that puts a lot of weight on rule-following and legal consistency. Germany is embedded in the European Union, therefore, directives from Brussels play a major role in defining the agenda. The German CIO council of the federal and state level has just published a first agenda for open government and 2012/2013 will be the years, when Germany will move massively towards open government.

Transparency

The transparency debate in Germany is defined by two EU-directives, the PSI and INSPIRE. The PSI directive of 2003 is a EU directive that encourages EU member states to make as much public sector information available for re-use as possible – it has led to access to information legislation in German states and on the federal level.  The INSPIRE directive of 2007 lays down a general framework for a Spatial Data Infrastructure for the purposes of European Community environmental policies and policies or activities which may have an impact on the environment. The German governmental response was to develop an institution called the Geoportal for Germany which organizes one-stop access to Geo-data from the municipal, state, and federal level. Both directives have shaped the discourse on transparency in Germany and have led to legal action. The idea of open data has had the biggest impact on the German discourse. The German Open Data Network and the Open Knowledge Foundation have really pushed the issue. They have launched in cooperation with the German interior ministry the first Apps-for-Germany contest in November 2011. Cities like Berlin, Munich, or Bremen have taken the lead on the municipal level. The biggest roadblock are strong privacy laws that have been written in a different situation.

Participation

Germany has been influenced by the concept of participatory budgeting. Participatory budgeting is a process of democratic deliberation and decision-making, in which ordinary people decide how to allocate part of a municipal or public budget. Participatory budgeting allows citizens to identify, discuss, and prioritize public spending projects, and gives them the power to make real decisions about how money is spent. The concept was originally developed in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1989 and became fashionable in Germany in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Cities like Cologne, Hamburg, Berlin-Lichterfelde, and Erfurt have developed electronically mediated versions of participatory budgeting and have very much shaped the discourse. In 2011 a big railroad station project in Stuttgart has led to social media organized protests that have in the end led to a new party to gain power in that state.

Collaboration

The idea of using social media in public administration is still contested in Germany. Examples are the “Fix-my-street” project of the state of Brandenburg. Cornelius Everding, the CIO of Brandenburg has the vision of not only enabling citizens to point to problems such as potholes or broken street signs, but actually organizing in groups that then take care of the problem: Maerker Brandenburg is only a first instantiation of this idea. Municipal electricity companies are starting to use “2.0-technologies” in streetlight-management, allowing citizens to inform them of non-functioning lamps and a new traffic jam communication system is built on Apps downloaded by several hundred thousand drivers. However, these types of technologies are not yet mainstreamed.

Conclusion

Overall, the logic of many-to-many technologies is becoming part of German public administration and public policy, however, German idiosyncrasies can be ascertained. The combination of strong privacy protection, with a legalistic culture in public administration are the biggest roadblock to all-out open government. However, the professionalism of the German civil service in combination with German “Gründlichkeit” will mean that we will hear more of German open government.
 … what do you think? 

23. January 2012 by Philipp
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Strategy for the N2N World

as I am preparing my keynote for the opening of the Alexander von Humboldt Institute on Internet and Society kickoff conference, I have been reflecting on the open statecraft research program.

Five years ago, in 2006, O’Reilly (who earlier had coined the term web 2.0) called for government 2.0 or „government as a platform.” In 2009, President Obama published the Memo on Open Government and defined in Transparency, Participation, and Collaboration the taxonomy of legitimate open governmental action. In 2011 the Open Government Partnership was launched at the UN General Assembly and many if not most governments on this planet have started to develop explicit open government policies or have included the vocabulary of open government in their policies.

Government as a platform:  or why n2n is different

At its most fundamental level, “government as a platform” alludes to the condition of possibility of governance in n-to-n media. N-to-n  can be many-to-many, as posited by Clay Shirky (2008), but also few-to-few, and few-to-many, and many-to-few. However, all are fundamentally different than one-to-many media, the form of communication that we have become accustomed to in the 20th Century and require new forms of governance if their potential is to be realized.

Value Creation in digitally mediated network societies

This is very relevant for our political communities, because today, the conditions of possibility of media play such an important role in structuring possible forms of governance: In the 21st Century all social value creation (including economic production) is mediated through digital networks. Therefore, even the most material aspects of social life is not thinkable independent of digital communication and this in turn amplifies the impact its logical conditions of possibility have on instantiations of forms of governance. This goes way beyond the idea of empowering citizens and thereby increasing the legitimacy of our existing governmental institutions.

The n2n research program: rethinking organization, strategy, and leadership

Technology does not cause societal change. But it changes what we can do. On a n2n platform processes can be structured so that they can make use of contributions across space and time, allow for contributions that are granular and modular, and that can outsource quality control to the community or institutionalize it in algorithmic solutions. We need to rethink:

  • organization (moving beyond classical transaction cost economics),
  • strategy (moving beyond competitive dynamic),
  • leadership (moving beyond transactional models)

24. October 2011 by Philipp
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A quick note on the state of the art on the art of opening the state

25 years ago, in 1986, Fritz Kratochwil and Gerald Ruggie reminded us of the historicity of the state, by pointing at the hypocrisy of theories of statehood that assumed ontological inter-subjectivism (imagined communities), while at the same time positing epistemological positivism (laws-of-nature). It took 20 years for that realization to sink in, but in the early 21st Century, we (as humanity) got it and started to explore concepts of governance beyond statehood: The global governance discourse, the supranational governance ideas, and the emergence of multi-stakeholder governance processes come to mind.

Five years ago, in 2006, O’Reilly (who earlier had coined the term web 2.0) called for government 2.0 or „government as a platform.” In 2009, President Obama published the Memo on Open Government and defined in Transparency, Participation, and Collaboration the taxonomy of legitimate open governmental action. In 2011 the Open Government Partnership was launched at the UN General Assembly and many if not most governments on this planet have started to develop explicit open government policies or have included the vocabulary of open government in their policies.

“government as a platform”  or why many-to-many is different

At its most fundamental level, “government as a platform” alludes to the condition of possibility of governance in n-to-n media. N-to-n  can be many-to-many, as posited by Clay Shirky (2008), but also few-to-few, and few-to-many, and many-to-few. However, all are fundamentally different than one-to-many media, the form of communication that we have become accustomed to in the 20th Century and require new forms of governance if their potential is to be realized. On a many-to-many platform processes can be structured so that they can make use of contributions across space and time, allow for contributions that are granular and modular, and that can outsource quality control to the community or institutionalize it in algorithmic solutions.

This is very relevant for our political communities, because today, the conditions of possibility of media play such an important role in structuring possible forms of governance: In the 21st Century all social value creation (including economic production) is mediated through digital networks. Therefore, even the most material aspects of social life is not thinkable independent of digital communication and this in turn amplifies the impact its logical conditions of possibility have on instantiations of forms of governance. This goes way beyond the idea of empowering citizens and thereby increasing the legitimacy of our existing governmental institutions.

It means, we need to rethink organization, strategy, and leadership. 

13. October 2011 by Philipp
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