World Transformation: The Athenian Agora
 The Athenian Agora
picture 1 May 2004 @ 08:57, by ming

From Ming the Mechanic: George Dafermos wrote a large and very impressive document Blogging the Market - How Weblogs are turning corporate machines into real conversations. It is a deep overview of how weblogs relate to, integrate with, and change how business works, and, well, why it is a good thing. And I'm not done reading it, so I'll return to it. But in part George has some excellent historic overviews. Like, this description of the Agora in ancient Athens is well worth repeating.
In the city-state of Athens, about 3,000 years ago, Athenian citizens used to meet regularly at the “town centre” to announce projects, discuss politics and military affairs and decide on matters of common interest. What was so peculiar about this congregation – that came to be known as ‘agora’ – is that all Athenian citizens had the right to speak their own mind about almost anything and address their fellow citizens and when a decision had to be made, no one’s vote mattered more than someone else’s. And everything took place out in the open. No single Athenian was privileged in terms of public exposure and all opinions voiced at the agora were judged against their own merit. The ability to speak, raise objections, comment and criticise was equally distributed among all attendants and power to decide on the action to be taken based on what was previously debated was also equally distributed. Some embraced their fellow citizens’ ideas, and joined a civic coalition to take immediate action provided of course that they managed to convince the majority while others detached themselves emotionally from these very same ideas and went on to counter argue and oppose them. Conflict, enthusiasm, dispute and all sorts of verbal demonstrations of human emotions and feelings were evident and encouraged. Legendary war campaigns, marches to the battlefield and critical community issues related to, say, education, sports or arts, were decided in this way rather than at the headquarters of the army general or at the palace of the ruling king (besides, there was no king). And that is what Democracy means in Greek: the public holds the power reigns. However, the organisation of the agora conveyed also something else: that power shifted to where knowledge resided. Athenians were empowered by the abstract, yet real social infrastructure of the agora to publicly demonstrate their knowledge by means of articulating arguments in favour or against of certain propositions and on these premises, to gain the respect, the approval and the support of everyone engaged in the conversation. Yet it is striking how distant this archaic “town centre” looks from the one we are familiar with. Time went by and approximately 2,150 years ago ancient Greek forces were outperformed by the Roman army in the battlefield, and Athens was eventually taken over by the Roman Empire. The Athenian democracy and agora did not ever recover. Never again in human history had people had this staggering ability to collectively make decisions and collectively implement them.

There's a lot more, so read for yourself. But just be aware that there's a lot of people looking for how we might establish something like the Athenian Agora today on the Internet. And weblogs might possibly be one of the key pieces.


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