[governance] Is This An Issue for Internet Governance/Internet Human Rights?

Paul Lehto lehto.paul at gmail.com
Fri Jul 29 19:46:02 EDT 2011

On 7/29/11, Norbert Bollow <nb at bollow.ch> wrote:
>> With democratically-styled governments, one has the right via the vote
>> to "kick the bums out" and often to enact laws directly via
>> referendum.   Such remedies don't exist at all with corporations.
> This is a valid reply to the assertion about corruption.
> [snip]
> Paul, you still haven't addressed however Daniel's point that besides
> governance functions conducted by government institutions, and situations
> of abuse of power by corporations, there is also a reality of what Daniel
> calls "private, non-corporate governance", which has been working quite
> well for many internet related governance functions, allowing the
> internet to become as successful as it has become.

If this "private, non-corporate governance" works at all well, I'd
first have to ask For Whom does it Work Well?  I realize that
educated, talented and resourceful few such as those on this list and
our colleagues may sometimes convince a Microsoft to do a minor
change, but this is mostly because the lawyers for Microsoft have
reserved truly sweeping rights and won't really be hurt at all by a
minor concession.  Even despotic kings are known to do likewise, it is
referred to as "the Grace of the king."  Kings save people's lives
from time to time, and all that.  But it's only when and if they want
to, and it's not pursuant to the rule of law.

The kind of concessions one may on rare occasion get from the
corporate kingpins are all either in the nature of Grace, or in the
nature of them being forced or compelled to (as in the threat of a
lawsuit, which ultimately is force if successful, based on the rule of

I always concede that an at least apparently more "efficient" and
workable private governance or private dictatorship can be set up.
One might set themselves up as the autocratic dictator of a listserv
and many or even most might find that quite workable if I often act in
the mode like one of Plato's philosopher kings and regularly dispense
at least some grace.  But this is no comfort to those in the minority
(or majority) who have their rights and dignity denied by the autocrat
or corporate plutocrat, and in most instances (except where
democratically-passed laws still apply) there's nothing that anybody
outside the corporation can do about it, except beg for grace.  You
might not literally be down on your knees with Microsoft, but unless
you are arguing based on democratically-passed laws with the actual or
implied threat of legal action behind it, you are truly at the grace
and mercy of Microsoft.

I am not convinced that any credence should be given to the reports of
those who have successfully sought and received grace or mercy from
Microsoft or any other private corporate captain of commerce, nor from
any private governor, individual or corporate.

> When the goal is to make corporations act reasonably in some
> particular area of conduct, I would generally expect it to be
> easier to achieve this objective by primarily seeking to create
> an effective "private, non-corporate governance" entity for
> this area of governance. It is very difficult to convince a
> government to take this governance function under their roof and
> do a reasonable job at it. In the context of internet governance,
> where it would be necessary to influence governments worldwide
> to take concerted action and do a reasonable job at it,
> influencing governments is practically feasible only for issues
> where the arguments are particularly strong that legislative
> action is needed.

If one is part of, or connected to, what amounts to an internet
aristocracy of private governance, I understand that if you know the
ropes a bit you may find it easier to pull some strings in that
smaller aristocracy than it is to move or influence larger,
democratically established governments.  For very analogous reasons, a
very rich person willing to use bribery might strongly favor the
continuation of a corrupt, bribery-based system of governance because
it very much helps the rich person to get things done in a quick way.
But this is not at all the case for the average person, nor is a
simple preference (based on pragmatism of any kind) for a certain kind
of private governance system a sound basis upon which to anchor the
rights of all.  A
>> But most importantly, we should remember at all times that law is
>> Force.
> And there are other types of Force as well, including in
> particular economic forces of supply and demand, public opinion,
> etc.

It is true that the force of public opinion exists under every form of
governance, even kings must eventually respond to public opinion for
example.  But they need not respond in such a way to do the will of
the public, and most importantly the kind of level of public opinion
necessary to move a king or a dictator is typically much higher than
the level of majority rule, or 50% plus one vote.   That is, a king or
plutocrat in most instances can't ignore for very long the opinions of
an 80% super-majority if those opinions are firmly held.  At the same
time, these kinds of super-majorities are very hard to create, and
also in those cases where the actions of kings or plutocrats just
happen to co-incide with a minority opinion, it is almost always
fairest to say that the king is simply following his own wishes, and a
minority of support is a mere co-incidence.

The bottom line is that in all non-democratic systems of governance,
(whether private individual or corporate governance, or dictatorships)
the burden of majority rule is raised even higher to require a
super-majority of public opinion to move the powers that be.  And even
when these super-majorities are created, the action that the king is
forced into usually results in a worse partial victory than the kind
of partial victories seen as legislative outcomes.

I hope it's obvious that I interpret my own experiences in effecting
change in non-democratic or private institutions to be due to my
temporary admission into that part of the internet aristocracy,
combined with the unilateral decision on the part of the private
governor to grant me some grace, relief or mercy.  I don't think  you
or I will ever succeed in getting such a private governor to do
something in this manner that is in any way fundamentally against
their interests -- our arguments are limited to what's in the long
term best interests of our kingly private governor (or the threat of
asserting democratically-derived laws, which is an interjection of
democracy into a non-democratic situation).

The acid test for democracy or any form of governance is what can be
called the "So What?" test.  What can a person do if the power
exercising governance simply says "so what?"  "What are you going to
do about it?"

As stated before, there is recourse in a democracy - either to kicking
the bums out or a referendum.   In a corporate regime, the corporation
won't do anything not in its self-interest at least in the long run,
unless through outright stupidity.  If one asks a corporation to do
that, they suffer no loss or hardship by losing your business as you
let your feet do the "voting" - instead it is a case of "good
riddance" from the corporation's point of view.  Therefore, walking
away from the corporation with one's business is BENEFITING the
corporation in these types of cases because in these types of cases,
one is asking the corporation to do something *not* in its
profitability interest.  Thus, when asking a corporation to act
against its own profitability interest, the so-called 'vote" of
changing one's purchases is nothing like a substitute for real voting
at all: There's no right to "kick the bums out" that is the
fundamental purpose of self-government, aka democracy.

>> The only thing that can legitimize that force is tracing that
>> power back to a majority vote in a democratically elected institution.
>>  On what basis does a corporation or other private actor exercise
>> force over anyone else?
> Most internet governance entities operate on the basis of power
> of pursuation coupled with economic network effects.
> There is no way in which the legitimacy of governance can be
> increased by attempting to replace "power of pursuation coupled
> with economic network effects" by democratic decision-making,
> because "power of pursuation coupled with economic network
> effects" is also at the heart of the decision-making processes
> in all real-world implementations of democracy.

If I read this correctly, you are fundamentally confused because the
ONLY, and do mean only, basis for the legitimacy of force or power
being exercised over others is pursuant to the rule of law, derived
from democratically elected processes.  Corporations have none of this
legitimacy, governments sometimes have it and sometimes don't.  Check
the Universal Declaration of Human rights and it will say exactly this
idea: the only legitimate form of governance is that based on the
consent of the governed, and this consent is not gained by useful
fictions like failure of the governed to revolt, it is based on
democratic elections.

You point to how difficult it is or can be to influence large
governments or several governments to pass laws.  But, since law is
force, isn't it very much appropriate that it is not easy to utilize
force against others, and that a majority is required to do so?

The problems people associate with democracy are usually and actually
problems of the corruptions of democracy, like where it is far easier
for the wealthy or powerful to operate the levers of power and get
legislation passed than it is for the common people.  I don't think I
need to argue that it is inappropriate to confuse the corruption of a
system with the system itself, especially since, as you point out,
every system no matter how derived is subject to the downward forces
of corruption.

Paul Lehto, J.D.

> That said, the potential for abuse of power by the powerful (in
> particular by corporations with great financial resources and/or
> a dominant market position of some kind) exists in any governance
> system, and needs to be safeguarded against.
> Greetings,
> Norbert
> ____________________________________________________________
> You received this message as a subscriber on the list:
>      governance at lists.cpsr.org
> To be removed from the list, visit:
>      http://www.igcaucus.org/unsubscribing
> For all other list information and functions, see:
>      http://lists.cpsr.org/lists/info/governance
> To edit your profile and to find the IGC's charter, see:
>      http://www.igcaucus.org/

Paul R Lehto, J.D.
P.O. Box 1
Ishpeming, MI  49849
lehto.paul at gmail.com
906-204-4026 (cell)
You received this message as a subscriber on the list:
     governance at lists.cpsr.org
To be removed from the list, visit:

For all other list information and functions, see:
To edit your profile and to find the IGC's charter, see:

Translate this email: http://translate.google.com/translate_t

More information about the Governance mailing list