James F. "Jim" Moore

April 1, 2003

The Second Superpower Rears its Beautiful Head

Filed under: jimStories — jim @ 7:08 am

Check out my new article and welcome to my new blog!

It was nice of Dave Winer and Doc Searls to pick up on it, even if it’s not really ready for much exposure.

In any case, what I most want to share with you is my paper “The Second Superpower Rears its Beautiful Head” (the title was suggested by Esme Bashwiner). The point of the paper is that “the movement” is now approaching the status of “the second superpower,” after the United States. This is due to (1) critical mass of people who identify with the world rather than the nation, with each other rather than just themselves, (2) the web and interactive media “neurology” of the movement—including texting, email lists, and blogging—which is giving it a kind of collective mind and ability to act, and (3) the advance of international institutions and international law, which provides a venue or a forum in which the second superpower can work with sympathetic nations to press its cause. The Bush administration is attacking the fabric of the international system, but it is unlikely to prevail.

Now, I know that the suggestion that the movement is powerful enough to be called a second superpower will be met with skepticism, given that the bombs of the first superpower are falling on Bagdad. This is either the worst or the best time to be pressing this idea! But even in regard to the war on Iraq, web and media-enabled public opinion is clearly the major actor to which the US government is attuned—before any given nation. And this other actor is uncontrollable by the US, despite its huge current effort to “dominate the news” (to quote a story from Declan’s List).

In any case, check out the paper and let me know what you think!

Best regards, Jim

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34 Responses to “The Second Superpower Rears its Beautiful Head”

  1. Joi Ito says:

    Great essay. Thanks for mentioning emergent democracy. Blog on brother!

  2. Ken Dow says:

    Very much enjoyed the essay. I was glad you noted the dependency of the Second on the freedoms of the First. Lessig’s proposition of code as law and how that could derail smart mobs and superpowers was setting off alarms.

  3. John Palfrey says:

    I disagree: the piece *is* ready for prime-time! -JP

  4. Paul Hughes says:

    Definitely long overdue. Very nice essay, couldn’t have come at a better time.

  5. Zack says:

    Independent Media Center ? http://www.indymedia.org….

    They seem to be by far the most exciting new social presence – internet age organization out there.

    Their views are a bit left of me – but that’s beside the point. Yes – they have a headless dispersed and powerful internet based media / think tank establishment that is steadily growing in scope and resources. But the truly revolutionary and amazing thing about IMC is their satellite community based nodes exploding across the world faster than people can track them. I go to school in the middle of Illinois, surrounded by cornfields, and the IMC is behind or involved in just about every progressive social and civic oriented happened, besides hosting regular concerts and workshops and seminars. When I go back home to Pittsburgh for the summer, there is Project 1877: http://www.1877.org/ – spearheaded by the brand new Pittsburgh IMC. “a community space, a haven for all people in Pittsburgh working toward progressive social change. It is a playground of ideas, actions, and connections for activist interaction and opportunity. Project 1877 connects progressive Pittsburghers of all classes, races, sexualities, genders, and beliefs. We plan to provide a free school, an infoshop, an art space, a meeting hall, a musical venue, a media and presentation hall, and a safe space to relax and hang out.” Last summer Pittsburgh’s IMC had 4 members and a static geocities hosted website – and basically no involvement.

    The IMC is applying and experimenting with the revolutionary ideas today’s internet age can support – and are having tremendous early successes.

    -Zack

  6. Scof says:

    Hi Mr. Moore, on Joi Ito’s site I left some critical comments of your paper. I did enjoy reading the paper and it provoked quite a bit of thought. I hope you appreciate the comments, I tried to give them in a reasoned manner. I’m curious as to your thoughts. Thanks again for the good read.

  7. Ross Mayfield says:

    Great paper. Glad you highlighted the need for the second to work with the first. Now if we could only get the first to work with the second.

  8. kenny says:

    kinda reminded me of hardt & negri’s empire :D cheers!

  9. j thoreau says:

    It’s terrifying to think that supposedly educated people could be so ignorant, and have so little regard for the precious freedoms we enjoy in this country. I want no part of your creepy left-wing fascism. I refuse to be a citizen of the “world” until the world shares our values. I don’t want “peace” if it means tyranny. I don’t want any form of “environmentalism” that impedes human progress. I don’t want any of your idiotic causes. You are a threat to *my* personal liberty, and I’m inclined to take that threat very seriously. But we both know that the reason you want to resort to undemocratic means to cram your agenda down my throat is that your ilk will never be a majority, not so long as people yearn to breathe free. If you value so little the rights, privileges and protections you enjoy as U.S. citizen, then you are not entitled to them.

  10. Scof says:

    Regarding the above comment: welcome to the world of blogging Jim! Most of us try to have a little more decorum when posting critiques, but anonymity affords some the opportunity to freely & harshly rant.

  11. Prasenjeet Dutta says:

    Calling left-of-center public opinion a `second superpower’, IMO, goes a bit too far. Is the third superpower then the right-of-center crowd, communicating through warblogs? And the fourth, “silent” superpower, the masses who haven’t formed an opinion yet (and which the two camps will jostle for)?

    I fail to see how the (being deliberately inaccurate here) “NGO crowd” is any different from the lobbyists for the `military-industrial’ complex: both are run by jingoists who reflexively try to force their agendas onto the events of the day, without regard to the real underlying issues. Of course, the “NGO crowd” always supports the `right’ issues, like not killing whales, saving the rain-forests, killing Jews, and propping up stray dictators like Hussein who tortures women — hey, he’s a socialist, after all!

    Incidentally, you may like to recollect that the “second superpower” can survive only in a few oases: North America, Western Europe, Brazil, India, Israel, Aus/NZ, and a few other places which have liberal democracies. The rest of the world still has to deal with thugs, tyrants and geriatric partymen in power, and these people would think nothing of utterly crushing any members of the second superpower if they dared to utter anything that the regime disliked (case in point: China, the subject of your other weblog post. also, why are there no protests outside the Iraqi embassy in Paris about the regime’s excesses?)

  12. Jorge Arango says:

    To the previous poster:

    You are right in saying that people in “liberal democracies” don’t utterly crush dissenters. In our free societies, thought control happens much more subtly — and more effectively. Differing opinions are strongly discouraged by 1) alienating dissenters (e.g. labeling them as traitors), 2) having the media present the party line as fact, and 3) discouraging the questioning of authority by proactively promoting a culture of ignorance (e.g. reading is considered uncool, people are concerned with irrelevant factoids like their local sport team’s performance, history is considered an unnecessary bore, etc.)

    Case in point: your contemptuous snarls about the “NGO Crowd” supporting killing Jews and propping up dictators like Hussein. I haven’t heard from anyone on either side of the political spectrum who believes that Hussein is anything but a monster. And I only ever hear talk of “killing others” — any nationality, creed, whatever — from extremist hawks who seemingly have no concern for the sanctity of human life. Your comments are not only uninformed and inflammatory; they also clearly illustrate the level of indoctrination that is prevalent in “free” societies today, and the sort of crap that people who are trying to effect positive change have to deal with.

    By branding even moderate attempts to bring some level of intelligence and questioning into the discussion (like the “Second Superpower” meme does) as “left-of-center”, the propaganda machine — and its agents, like yourself — makes all viewpoints other than the party line seem radical and dangerous. This only differs from the way tyrants operate in that 1) the range of allowed opinion is a bit wider here, and 2) we preserve the illusion of freedom — which may be even more dangerous, since it makes us comfortably complancent and the enemy harder to discern. (If someone puts a boot on your face for expressing your opinion, or people around you start disappearing for expressing theirs, you can clearly see the tyranny for what it really is.) I wonder how long you would retain your freedom (and possibly, your life) in today’s “free” societies if you were to express and actively promote truly radical, society-altering ideas that threaten the status quo in any serious way.

    Any form of real democracy (in the original sense of the word: majority rule for the benefit of the majority) and freedom of expression represents a very serious threat to the modus operandi (and very existence) of the powers-that-be in the First Superpower(s) today, a fact they must surely acknowledge. As a result, they will probably do their damnedest to derail any upsurge of democracy that might seem to threaten the status quo. They’ve surely anticipated the democratizing potential of the internet; this would explain the constant efforts over the past seven years of “domesticating” it (read: bringing it under corporate control.)

    In the near future, I expect even more forceful attempts to destroy freedom of expression and collaboration online and via other media. This will be done in the name of curtailing terrorism and/or protecting national security (we’re at war), with major corporations — especially the media — taking a lead role in ensuring that our civil rights are as thoroughly eradicated as possible, in the name of stopping piracy and pedophilia, protecting intellectual property, etc. You will be expected to just consume and shut up. And if organized dissent ever goes far enough for civil society to grind to a halt (as is implied in the article) via protests, boycotts, civil disobedience, etc., a sort of “permanent martial law” will be declared — online and off — to protect “us” from ourselves. We will essentially be living in George Orwell’s worst nightmare.

    Please read the following words carefully:

    “WE hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness — That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient Causes; and accordingly all Experience hath shewn, that Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security.”

  13. Prasenjeet Dutta says:

    Jorge,

    Case in point: your contemptuous snarls … from extremist hawks who seemingly have no concern for the sanctity of human life.

    It wasn’t `contemptuous snarls’, it was an honest question about why anyone would want to kill anybody at an anti-war rally. Thank you for noting that Hussein has done some very dastardly deeds, but I have to take issue with you when you say that the only ones calling for blood are the hawks. The doves here are equally bloodthirsty. You say my comments are `uninformed and inflammatory’, back up your words and show me in what circumstances my indignation at these images would be unjustified (e.g. are they Photoshop fakes?).

    I wonder how long you would retain your freedom (and possibly, your life) in today’s “free” societies if you were to express and actively promote truly radical, society-altering ideas that threaten the status quo in any serious way.

    Bad argument, quite a lot of the proposers of `radical’ ideas seem to be doing quite well, especially in academia.

    Any form of real democracy (in the original sense of the word: majority rule for the benefit of the majority) and freedom of expression represents a very serious threat to the modus operandi (and very existence) of the powers-that-be in the First Superpower(s) today

    But what is real democracy? Can you define it? How do you assume the majority holds your views? Is it `obvious’? I may be wrong, but your implication seems to be that real democracy would always be a threat to the powers-that-be because, of course, real democracy would always believe in the `right’ causes, i.e. your causes! (mine don’t matter, for I am no longer a citizen, merely a cog in the Propaganda machine)

    …makes all viewpoints other than the party line seem radical and dangerous [...] In the near future, I expect even more forceful attempts to destroy freedom of expression and collaboration online and via other media.

    And if that future comes (say, {deity} forbid, The Guardian’s editors were placed in the Tower), you will find me fighting on your side (for a change). You quoted Jefferson and Co., let me quote a French philosopher who said: “I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” By the same token you have no right to dismiss my opinion as `party’ propaganda (which party?), these are my views, and I am entitled to them, no matter how foul they appear to you.

  14. Cedwyn says:

    this essay is brilliant! i’d love to submit it to a local magazine, with your permission, of course.

  15. Jorge Arango says:

    Prasenjeet:

    Thanks for taking the time to respond. I hope you didn’t interpret my remarks to imply that you have no right to hold or express your views. Much to the contrary, I think that my posting argues that there should be even more freedom of expression than what is currently allowed by the media. I also expressed concerns over an erosion of civil liberties that I perceive happening in America today.

    Back now to our friendly ping-pong match…

    I don’t see how you can describe the following statement from your original posting as a “question”:

    Of course, the “NGO crowd” always supports the `right’ issues, like not killing whales, saving the rain-forests, killing Jews, and propping up stray dictators like Hussein who tortures women — hey, he’s a socialist, after all!

    First of all — and I don’t want to dwell on this too much; after all, you are being “deliberately inaccurate”, right? — I think you should be more rigorous with your language when making such a controversial remark in a public forum. Who exactly do you consider to be the NGO crowd? I know a lot of people who support issues like not killing whales and saving the rainforests who would be vehemently opposed to propping up stray dictators (even those that previously enjoyed the support — read: US taxpayer-supplied dollars — of the United States government, such as Saddam Hussein and Manuel Noriega), and the killing of Jews. (As a matter of fact, I know “NGO-types”, as you seem to define them, who are Jews!) You surely don’t mean that a few extremists holding up puerile signs in a protest march represent the views of the many millions of sensible people around the world that oppose this war? This would be a vast misrepresentation. It would be like me saying that all people who support the US troops in the Gulf are fascist isolationists just because some of their rallies have featured slogans like “LIBERALISM IS A MENTAL DISORDER,” “ANTI-WAR PROTESTERS AID AND SUPPORT TERRORRISTS **YOU ARE** TRAITORS,” “NO FRENCH AND (sic) GERMAN PRODUCTS NO U.N.,” etc.

    Your point about radical ideas given free reign in our society is well taken; I acknowledge that my comment was probably a bit heavy-handed. However, you have to admit that the US has a less than perfect track record in this regard. Surely it is not as bad as other countries in the world, and I, for one, feel relatively safe living here.

    With regards to the definition of democracy, let’s use the first one that shows up in dictionary.com, which I think is pretty representative (although by no means authoritative):

    de·moc·ra·cy
    n. pl. de·moc·ra·cies

    Government by the people, exercised either directly or through elected representatives.
    A political or social unit that has such a government.
    The common people, considered as the primary source of political power.
    Majority rule.
    The principles of social equality and respect for the individual within a community.

    What do you think of definitions no. 3 and 5? They sound very… left-of-center — don’t they? Maybe even radical. All that talk about “the people” and “social equality” and “community”… yecch! I bet it scares the hell out of some folks in this country and others. Like it or not, this is what democracy is supposed to be: Government for and by the People.

    I don’t believe — as you suggest I do (again, making me sound like a radical) — that real democracy must always be at odds with the powers-that-be. Much to the contrary: I believe that in a real, pure, democracy (probably a utopian concept, right?) the powers-that-be would be elected officials who would promote the values and precepts espoused by the people that elected them. For them to be at odds with the values of the electorate would be a contradiction in terms. Now back to cold reality: do you think that this accurately represents what the people who “elected” G W Bush to office were hoping he would do with their hard-earned money? (I use “elected” in quotes not because I question the legality of the election, but because it is a well known fact that the US has by far the lowest voter turnout of any western society.)

    Prasenjeet, I not only value your opinion; I consider it important enough to have devoted two hours of my valuable time crafting a response to your post. I did this not because I hope to persuade you, but because I’m trying to contribute to what the incredibly valuable global conversation that is the web, where everyone gets a shot to have their views heard. This is what the Second Superpower concept means for me: the use of inherently democratic media for the expression and fulfillment of inherently democratic ideals by fixing things that seem to be out of whack with the current political system. The idea is not to destroy the current system, but to help it work better for everyone. If the Second Superpower concept is left-of-center, as you claim in your original post, then democracy itself must be left-of-center and everyone in this society should rethink their position on the political spectrum. Out of respect for democracy and freedom, we need to ensure that open media — like the web — do not become heavily censored (here it’s called protected, monitored, safeguarded, filtered, or some such newspeak term) like other media have.

  16. bern de galvez says:

    Jorge, the point is that our elected officials DO “promote the values and precepts espoused by the people that elected them” (as well as of those people who stayed home and voted by default). You just don’t happen to AGREE with those people. Our system does a good job of balancing majority rule with minority and individual rights. Your complaint is simply that your views are in the minority. The strategy proposed here to overcome your minority status, rather than persuading your fellow citizens, is to try to thwart the democratic will of the people of the United States by conspiring with foreign interests and pressure groups. At the very least that seems dishonest.

  17. Michael Olan says:

    Excellent article. May not win many supporters in the first superpower, but will definitely add to the second. I teach a course on “Technology in the Developing World”. This article will be required reading next week!

  18. ambimb says:

    The “second superpower” meme is definitely spreading; see the cover story of the most recent issue of The Nation for an great compliment to Jim Moore’s excellent article.

    As Billy Bragg sings:

    If no one seems to understand
    Start your own revolution and cut out the middleman

  19. Chris Brody says:

    There’s a good discussion going on at MetaFilter regarding what The Register sees as usurpation of the Second Superpower meme by the “weblog A-list.”

  20. Chris Brody says:

    Damn, here’s the Register link.

    Why no preview? Sort it out, Dave!

  21. David Woldrich says:

    Why long for another superpower? The last “Second Superpower” we had was the USSR, and that whole thing was corrupted and collapsed in on itself. Socialism sucks; c’mon, throw me a bone and agree with me. Socialism will *never* entirely not suck.

    Why loathe our success? (America’s success.) We’re the best for a reason. Our people are the happiest for a reason. We defend ourselves and make open war on those who would make themselves enemies for a reason. That reason: we’re free. I think a world government would lead to oppression and hell on earth because you can’t centralize power like that and not have it go bad on you.

    Why loathe Bush? He’s doing a good job. Hello, hydrogen power? Clinton didn’t have the balls to propose it. Bush has balls.

    And what is this you are talking about blogs leading to a new democracy in this global superpower?? Every blog I read says something different! This is the problem I see with pure democracy … too much disagreement, all chaos, nothing gets done, and then some despot comes along: game over.

    I’m going to enjoy very much reading your blog.

    Thanks,
    Dave Woldrich

  22. michael heraghty says:

    The idea of the nation-state is, in fact, outdated. The interent is one of the ways in which new communities are emerging, and new cultural identities are created, which challenge traditional geography-based identities.

    Keep up the good work.

    – michael heraghty

  23. Jim says:

    This is clearly stated, comprehensive and persuasive. I would feel confident passing this doc to people of conscience, skeptical by nature and possessed of too little time to embrace the broadband in earnest. Bravo to Jim Moore. A great start.

  24. kenny says:

    thanks for that article ambimb! “Shock and awe has found its riposte in courage and wonder.” :D that’s a great sentiment! it’s kind of ironic that an article on supranational resistance is the cover story in a magazine called the The Nation tho :D

  25. Ani says:

    Mr. Moore, regarding the people of the Second Superpower, please consider using bees in your analogy. Ants are aggressive and violent, while bees work in harmony for the whole hive. As we all know, bees offer honey to human beings and live in symbiosis with them. I can’t think of one advantage to having ants.
    Thank you for your article. It was inspiring and offered encouragement for working together.

  26. Cedwyn says:

    lol….ummm..bees don’t “offer” anything to humans. they produce honey, to which we help ourselves. and there’s a good reason beekeepers wear those spaceman-looking body suits. i’m sorry, but your understanding of hymenoptera is just not spot on.

    viva le ant revolucion!

    besides, bees make much more noise, which alerts one to their presence. ;)

  27. John Hibbs says:

    I couldn’t disagree more strongly with Dave about King George; but his point about “all chaos, nothing gets done” and “one more blogging” site all hit harder than George Forman in his prime.

    I have written Jim that I believe his article oould be to the Second American Revolution what Common Cause was to the first. I believe the first step is to advance his theories and get people talking about it. That’s possible given the tools available today, proof of which comes by way of http://www.moveon.org

    What I say is missing – and that need not come from a revised or edited Secondsuperpower article – is both a plank we can all get behind and a mechanism that advances our own agenda and like minded souls. I believe the “plank” is “increasing access to classrooms where the cornerstones are pluralism, rule of law and humanrights”. I believe the mechanism is CandlePower.

    While blogs are fine, I am not sure that those who wish to promote Secondsuperpower into something beyond which Dave says it will go – nowhere – we should hold, virtually, real time meetings. These help to reinforce visits to these pages and spending as much time reading what others have to say as they do writing stuff like this.

    John Hibbs
    http://www.bfranklin.edu/johnhibbs

  28. John Hibbs says:

    Zack, it’s guys like you who make me get up at 2 a.m. to read mail and find new, exciting stuff like http://www.indymedia.org. It’s also why what used to be my absolute favorite thing on Sunday – immersion in the New York Times – doesn’t get started until noon…Tuesday.

    Between this blogging site, C-Span and trying to tune out the moron pundits about the war, I have my hands full.

    Thank you for pointing me to indymedia.org

    BTW – I believe Jim’s article, Secondsuperpower is the Common Cause of this revolution. We need to promote it widely. We also need to have a mechanism that increases exposure and raises money. I have ideas about that, but this is not the space for same.

    Your’s is an interesting post. Thank you.
    John Hibbs
    http://www.bfranklin.edu/johnhibbs

  29. John Hibbs says:

    Sometimes I think those of us inclined to agree with the Secondsuperpower don’t understand just how deep is the opposition. Mr. Thoreau’s post is a good reminder, and for that we should be appreciative.

    I wonder what he would have said to Tom Paine after reading Common Cause?

    John Hibbs
    http://www.bfranklin.edu/johnhibbs

  30. John Hibbs says:

    Michael, I’d like you to point me to a URL where I can find out more about your course, Technology in the Developing World.

    John Hibbs
    http://www.bfranklin.edu

    P.S. How do you edit your profile? How do you directly comment to individuals who have posted? Dave Winer, where are we when we need you. (I have been spoiled by using http://www.nicenet.org — thought this blogging site is very, very friendly. But shouldn’t there be link to where we can view the profiles of those who have logged on? And photo?>

  31. John Abbe says:

    Jim, i’m enjoying the sense of energy i get from reading your weblog.

    I believe that the definitions you are offering for the second superpower make it very likely to be seen as some vaguely (or not so vaguely :) lefty thing, which would be a shame, because the second superpower is such a good metaphor. I’ve written about this a little — in my weblog AbbeNormal of course.

    Please do let me know what you think.

  32. John Abbe says:

    Ah yes, the ever-important link

  33. John Abbe says:

    Link (third time’s the charm)

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