My co-author, Dalei Jie, and I recently finished our report on Political Elites, New Media and Youth: A Comparative Study of China vs. Taiwan, funded by UPenn GAPSA-Provost Interdisciplinary Research Award 2008. When we wrote the presentation slides together, Dalei added a final sentence that shocked me first. Later on I realized that it is exactly what I wanted to but did not dare to say.
"What is bad for democracy might not be bad for the cross-strait relationship."
The story goes like this: We found that youth from both China and Taiwan have mixed feeling about the cross-strait relationship. Chinese young people have strong sense of nationalism but feel unsatisfied by the political situations in both areas. They tend to be confused and opt for practical goals such as making money. Taiwan young people grew up with a clear local identification but do not completely deny the fact of being Chinese. They tend to dis-trust their political leaders and also, opt for practical goals such as living a happy life. But the symptoms of these mentalities are indifference to politics and lack of activeness in advocating a solution. Political apathy is considered as bad for democracy. However, it functions as a factor that stabilizes the cross-strait relationship in this case.
Here is an example of civic participation as a norm.
The Civic Potential of Video Games
The logic is: as long as games are promoting civic participation, they are not something evil. I am not saying this logic is anything wrong. Just realize that it might not be applicable in any cases.
Two pieces of facts caught my interest these days.
Fact 1: The recently revived Speaker's Corner in Hong Lim Park attracted two protesters on September 1st, its first day when restrictions were officially eased. Media reported that there were more audience than actors.
Fact 2: Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media on Society released a consultation paper on August 29th, urging the Government to interact with Singaporeans via new media.
When I watched news on Fact 1, I cannot stop thinking of Fact 2 and say, come on, because we have the Internet. Our speaker's corner nowadays is the cyberspace.
Here is a commentary on the consultation paper.
TODAYonline:Can Radical Also Be Right?
In other words, if the Government wants to engage citizens in the new
media as the report envisions, it cannot always set the agenda. This is
quite radical, given that the Government’s prerogative to set the
agenda has remained one of the fundamentals in Singapore since
The quote above is very interesting because it triggers my mental link between e-engagement and radical democracy. Radical democracy, according to Cohen & Fung, embraces two ideas: Participation and Deliberation. The news author is right to say e-engagement is radical because he realizes that e-engagement gives citizens direct roles in policy-making. The officials will have to respond to citizens' concerns rather than setting the agenda for them.
However, the author more or less used radical as a negative word considering that he doubted the co-existence of radical and right. Cohen & Fung's definition implies that radical democracy definitely can be right because it is based on deliberation. So I think the real concern here is not whether e-engagement is radical or not. It is the problem of the tension between participation and deliberation. How does a public decision-making procedure become widely participatory and highly deliberate at the same time? Especially when the Government disagrees with its citizens on what is considered as deliberate. And when the citizens disagree with each other.
I am an Associate Professor at Department of Communication and New Media, National University of Singapore.