I was struck when listening to it by the parallels (superb delivery) and the profound differences to Eben Moglen's talk last year to the Scottish Society for Computers and Law. Nominally, a speech about the computer industry after GPL v. 3, it was, in fact, a disquisition about freedom and the opportunity to transform law into a collaborative act of creative people.
Not surprisingly, their intellectual approaches to politics mirror their political approaches to intellectual property.
For Moglen, the crusader for open source licensing, it's not about software but about freedom and societal reform writ large. He wants to upend the intellectual property regime as we know it and the monopoly industries that profit from it. "If it is easily possible to give to each human being who wishes it everything of utility and beauty at low or zero cost, why is it ever moral to exclude anyone from anything she wants?”
By contrast, Creative Commons focuses on the individual. Give people the freedom to decide how to dispose of their own intellectual property. Preserve property but enable the means to give away the rights that we don't want to keep.
Now Powerpoint Goes to Washington, not to get rid of Congress, but to reform it. Get politicians to pledge not to take money form lobbyists and to commit to public financing for elections but preserve the status quo. Use wiki-based tools to deploy an army of collaborators to keep the politicians honest and accountable (though, I must add, that is not one of the better visualization tools available by a long shot!). It is the incremental approach, the practical approach, the doable reform. And like Creative Commons, it'll happen and will take off.
Moglen says “What the Net can do to politics in the YouTube, Wi-Fi, MoveOn, Facebook,the MySpace, FlashMob era remains to be written out in full.” He wants to move away from a political regime where governance is based on territoriality and, instead, let affiliation drive the legitimacy of governance. The audience of lawyers was expecting to hear about software contracts and, instead, was treated to a lecture about democracy. His vision is reflected in the verve he has brought to the free software movement which has fundamentally transformed innovation today.
While Eben is an optimist, inclined to trust people's ability to collaborate and work together, Larry is strikingly a pessimist, full of dismay at the state of the body politic. Yet while Eben is revolutionary, nay, evolutionary, in his take on government, Larry wants to preserve the status quo (or at least pretends to and it is one way to get things done).
My own view is that we need to combine both: Lessig's orientation toward action and pragmatism with Moglen's boldness of vision.
We need to stop viewing our institutions of government and governance as static and reified in their current form and, instead, start asking, not how to use technology to make Congress more transparent but how to use technology to make us more powerful.
I don't want to blow up Congress (well, I do but that's for another day) but to extend its intelligence by connecting the power of the network to the structure of the institution and to change fundamentally the way government works. Michael Schudson writes about the "monitorial citizen" who, because she is so busy and overwhelmed (read: not too bright) should play the role of policing government and making it more accountable. This is what the Change Congress movement will do using the cool tools. It's important and useful but it's not enough and does not fully recognize the potential of ordinary people to do extraordinary things. It's pretty pessimistic, not about Congress, but about us.
The idea that all we are good for is to blog about what happens in Washington or even to make maps and mash-ups of when and with whom the politicians went to lunch is to ignore the larger opportunity to get involved with making the science that contributes to our understanding of public health and obesity, analyzing the data about global warming, participating in the drafting of policies about these and other fields and overseeing the work of those who implement them through citizen juries assigned to every official. I'm all for "change Congress" but then let's really change it for the better!