Competition Entry | Empowering the Individual - The Answer to Tyranny

How can individuals and societies protect themselves against the encroachment and abuse of government power in the modern age?

By "Peacenik" Rick Dickinson

The specter of totalitarianism is looming. A cyber-backed authoritarian regime, arising from the collusion between government and other powerful institutions, forever protecting the interests of the few from the threat of a free human race. Yet the solution to prevent this dystopian future can be found where it has been all along: inside every person.

The surest way to keep out tyranny starts with a voice inside that says "I can make a difference. My voice counts. I matter!" Whatever it is that makes someone feel like this, is precisely what is needed in larger amounts. Anything that takes an individual from feeling helpless and afraid to feeling hopeful and engaged is what will ultimately set humankind free.

Of course, one invigorated individual alone wouldn't stand much of a chance against the influential entities seeking to enslave the planet. But that's where emergent technology comes into play. Now, unlike any other time in history, humans have the tools to channel independent actions from a multitude of engaged citizens into an indomitable player in the political spectrum.

Everyday, more and more people are getting infected with the empowered spirit, and, all the time, innovations arise to more effectively organize this scattered people-power into a focused force for change. Soon, if it hasn't happened already, the world's population will recognize that the balance of power is now in their hands.

With an enlightened global populace demanding accountable governance everywhere, humans will be set free to create, in the words of Paul Krugman, "a society each of us would want if we didn't know in advance who we'd be."

So what exactly promotes this empowered state of mind, that which offers protection from overbearing institutions, including governments? There are many factors, and what works will be unique to the individual, but the most pertinent self-empowering tool in the modern era is, by far, the Internet.

Access to the web offers an exciting form of empowerment: self-reliance. Malawi's William Kampkwamba was able to power his family's farm with a wind generator built using nothing but scavenged parts and a few science books as guides.

Now just imagine the doors being opened for every young innovator with access to the great equalizer known as the Internet. Thanks to the virtual omnipotence of Google, ambition and an online connection are are fast becoming all that is needed to be a success.

The Internet also bolsters another mechanism for empowering minds: the mimic factor. Like a giant echo chamber, a lot of what gets said and done is a copy of what other people say and do. "Courage is contagious" as Julian Assange says, and the more who espouse empowerment, the more it will catch on in others, sparking an epidemic of revolutionary fever.

This contagion factor also leads to another tremendously inspiring feeling - the mob mentality - which social media helps feed like fuel on a fire. Being part of a huge group is extremely liberating. When someone doesn't have to risk sticking their neck out alone, it helps break the psychological barrier of fear that often keeps people subdued.

As well, online polls, petitions, forums and social media are all digitizing democracy for the people. On top of this, the Internet offers ways for opening governments. Whether via whistleblowers like WikiLeaks or hacktivist exposés, transparency is now something to be expected and demanded from authority.

Most importantly, the Net provides the vehicle through which millions of loosely connected people can coordinate and mobilize in real time, opening up mass-demonstrations as another way to get the people's voice heard. Gradually, all of the Internet's various channels of empowerment will manifest into the ultimate weapon against totalitarianism: a functioning global democracy.

Already, signs that humans everywhere are awakening to a heightened state of mind can be seen from the Middle East to the Mediterranean. Not only have these millions-strong demonstrations given pause to elected officials, they've left the old guard - families and institutions that have reigned over the world for centuries - scrambling to prevent a permanent upheaval to the status quo.

Under the guise of fighting terrorism, file-sharing and child exploitation, forces have been clamping down on the Internet, threatening to strip it of any democratizing and empowering values, leaving it as just another tool for the oppression.

This highlights what is perhaps the most crucial aspect for defense against authoritarian abuse and encroachment: keeping the Internet unfettered and unfiltered. An unrestricted flow of information is imperative for the future of humankind's freedom.

As long as the struggle to keep a free Internet prevails, more and more individuals will awaken to join in the movement towards a brighter future. Eventually, there will be billions of empowered minds, all interconnecting instantly, and the human species will be well on the path to a more just civilization.

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