There is an emerging second superpower, but it is not a nation. Instead, it is a new form of international player, constituted by the "will of the people" in a global social movement. The beautiful but deeply agitated face of this second superpower is the worldwide peace campaign, but the body of the movement is made up of millions of people concerned with a broad agenda that includes social development, environmentalism, health, and human rights. This movement has a surprisingly agile and muscular body of citizen activists who identify their interests with world society as a whole-and who recognize that at a fundamental level we are all one. These are people who are attempting to take into account the needs and dreams of all 6.3 billion people in the world-and not just the members of one or another nation.
While some of the leaders have become highly visible, what is perhaps most interesting about this global movement is that it is not really directed by visible leaders, but, as we will see, by the collective, emergent action of its millions of participants. This body has a beautiful mind. Web connections enable a kind of near-instantaneous, mass improvisation of activist initiatives.
The Internet and other interactive media continue to penetrate more and more deeply all world society, and provide a means for instantaneous personal dialogue and communication across the globe. The collective power of texting, blogging, instant messaging, and email across millions of actors cannot be overestimated. Like a mind constituted of millions of inter-networked neurons, the social movement is capable of astonishingly rapid and sometimes subtle community consciousness and action.
The symbol of the first superpower is the eagle-an awesome predator that rules from the skies, preying on mice and small animals. Perhaps the best symbol for the second superpower would be a community of ants. Ants rule from below. And while I may be awed seeing eagles in flight, when ants invade my kitchen they command my attention.
In the same sense as the ants, the continual distributed action of the members of the second superpower can, I believe, be expected to eventually prevail. Distributed mass behavior, expressed in rallying, in voting, in picketing, in exposing corruption, and in purchases from particular companies, all have a profound effect on the nature of future society. More effect, I would argue, than the devastating but unsustainable effect of bombs and other forms of coercion.
Deliberation in the first superpower is relatively formal--dictated by the US constitution and by years of legislation, adjudicating, and precedent. The realpolitik of decision making in the first superpower-as opposed to what is taught in civics class-centers around lobbying and campaign contributions by moneyed special interests-big oil, the military-industrial complex, big agriculture, and big drugs--to mention only a few. In many cases, what are acted upon are issues for which some group is willing to spend lavishly. By contrast, it is difficult in the US government system to champion policy goals that have broad, long-term value for many citizens, such as environment, poverty reduction and third world development, women's rights, human rights, health care for all. By contrast, these are precisely the issues to which the second superpower tends to address its attention.
Deliberation in the second superpower is evolving rapidly in both cultural and technological terms. It is difficult to know its present state, and impossible to see its future. But one can say certain things. It is stunning how quickly the community can act--especially when compared to government systems. The Internet, in combination with traditional press and television and radio media, creates a kind of "media space" of global dialogue. Ideas arise in the global media space. Some of them catch hold and are disseminated widely. Their dissemination, like the beat of dance music spreading across a sea of dancers, becomes a pattern across the community. Some members of the community study these patterns, and write about some of them. This has the effect of both amplifying the patterns and facilitating community reflection on the topics highlighted. A new form of deliberation happens. A variety of what we might call "action agents" sits figuratively astride the community, with mechanisms designed to turn a given social movement into specific kinds of action in the world.
The study of the nature and limits of this big mind is just beginning, and we don't know its strengths and weaknesses as well as we do those of more traditional democracy. Perhaps governance is the wrong way to frame this study. Rather, what we are embarked on is a kind of experimental neurology, as our communication tools continue to evolve and to rewire the processes by which the community does its shared thinking and feeling. One of the more interesting questions posed to political scientists studying the second superpower is to what extent the community's long-term orientation and freedom from special interests is reinforced by the peer-to-peer nature of web-centered ways of communicating--and whether these tendencies can be intentionally fostered through the design of the technology.
Which brings us to the most important point: the vital role of the individual. The shared, collective mind of the second superpower is made up of many individual human minds--your mind and my mind--together we create the movement. In traditional democracy our minds don't matter much--what matters are the minds of those with power of position, and the minds of those that staff and lobby them. In the emergent democracy of the second superpower, each of our minds matters a lot. For example, any one of us can launch an idea. Any one of us can write a blog, send out an email, create a list. Not every idea will take hold in the big mind of the second superpower--but the one that eventually catches fire is started by an individual. And in the peer-oriented world of the second superpower, many more of us have the opportunity to craft submissions, and take a shot.
The second superpower, emerging in the 21st century, depends upon educated informed members. In the community of the second superpower each of us is responsible for our own sense-making. We seek as much data-raw facts, direct experience--as we can, and then we make up our own minds. Even the current fascination with "reality television" speaks to this desire: we prefer to watch our fellows, and decide ourselves "what's the story" rather than watching actors and actresses play out a story written by someone else. The same, increasingly, is true of the political stage--hence the attractiveness of participation in the second superpower to individuals.
Now the response of many readers will be that this is a wishful fantasy. What, you say, is the demonstrated success of this second superpower? After all, George Bush was almost single-handedly able to make war on Iraq, and the global protest movement was in the end only able to slow him down. Where was the second superpower?
The answer is that the second superpower is not currently able to match the first. On the other hand, the situation may be more promising than we realize. Most important is that the establishment of international institutions and international rule of law has created a venue in which the second superpower can join with sympathetic nations to successfully confront the United States.
Overall, what can be said for the prospects of the second superpower? With its mind enhanced by Internet connective tissue, and international law as a venue to work with others for progressive action, the second superpower is starting to demonstrate its potential. But there is much to do. How do we assure that it continues to gain in strength? And at least as important, how do we continue to develop the mind of the second superpower, so that it maximizes wisdom and goodwill? The future, as they say, is in our hands. We need to join together to help the second superpower, itself, grow stronger.
First, we need to become conscious of the "mental processes" in which we are involved as members of the second superpower, and explore how to make our individual sense-making and collective action more and more effective. This of course means challenging and improving the mass media, and supporting more interactive and less biased alternatives. But more ambitiously, we will need to develop a kind of meta-discipline, an organizational psychology of our community, to explore the nature of our web-enabled, person-centered, global governance and communication processes, and continue to improve them.
Second, and ironically, the future of the second superpower depends to a great extent on social freedoms in part determined by the first superpower. It is the traditional freedoms--freedom of the press, of assembly, of speech--that have enabled the second superpower to take root and grow. Indeed, the Internet itself was constructed by the US government, and the government could theoretically still step in to restrict its freedoms. So we need to pay close attention to freedom in society, and especially to freedom of the Internet. There are many moves afoot to censor the web, to close down access, and to restrict privacy and free assembly in cyberspace. While we generally associate web censorship with countries like China or Saudi Arabia, tighter control of the web is also being explored in the United States and Europe. The officials of the first superpower are promoting these ideas in the name of preventing terrorism, but they also prevent the open peer-to-peer communication that is at the heart of the second superpower. We need to insist on an open web, an open cyberspace, around the globe, because that is the essential medium in which the second superpower lives.
Third, we must carefully consider how best to support international institutions, so that they collectively form a setting in which our power can be exercised. Perhaps too often we attack institutions like the World Bank that might, under the right conditions, actually become partners with us in dealing with the first superpower. International institutions must become deeply more transparent, accessible to the public, and less amenable to special interests, while remaining strong enough to provide a secure context in which our views can be expressed.
And finally, we must work on ourselves and our community. We will dialogue with our neighbors, knowing that the collective wisdom of the second superpower is grounded in the individual wisdom within each of us. We must remind ourselves that daily we make personal choices about the world we create for ourselves and our descendants. We do not have to create a world where differences are resolved by war. It is not our destiny to live in a world of destruction, tedium, and tragedy. We will create a world of peace.