The Occupy Wall Street movement has ignited new questions about the relationship between democracy and equality in the United States. Are we also entering a moment in history in which the disjuncture between our principles and our institutions is cast into especially sharp relief? Do new developments--most notably the rise of extreme inequality--offer new threats to the realization of our most cherished principles? Can we build an open, democratic, and successful movement to realize our ideals? Occupy the Future offers informed and opinionated essays that address these questions.
Recent advances in disciplines such as biotechnology, nanotechnology, and neuropharmacology entail a “dual-use dilemma” because they promise benefits for human health and welfare yet pose the risk of misuse for hostile purposes. The emerging field of synthetic genomics, for example, can produce custom DNA molecules for life-saving drugs but also makes possible the creation of deadly viral agents for biological warfare or terrorism. The challenge for policymakers is to prevent the misuse of these new technologies without forgoing their benefits.
The global explosion of online activity is steadily transforming the relationship between government and the public. The first wave of change, “e-government,” enlisted the Internet to improve management and the delivery of services. More recently, “e-democracy” has aimed to enhance democracy itself using digital information and communication technology. One notable example of e-democratic practice is the government-sponsored (or government-authorized) online forum for public input on policymaking.
In Majority Judgment, Michel Balinski and Rida Laraki argue that the traditional theory of social choice offers no acceptable solution to the problems of how to elect, to judge, or to rank. They find that the traditional model—transforming the "preference lists" of individuals into a "preference list" of society—is fundamentally flawed in both theory and practice. Balinski and Laraki propose a more realistic model. It leads to an entirely new theory and method--majority judgment—proven superior to all known methods.
The post–civil rights era perspective of many scientists and scholars was that race was nothing more than a social construction. Recently, however, the relevance of race as a social, legal, and medical category has been reinvigorated by science, especially by discoveries in genetics. Although in 2000 the Human Genome Project reported that humans shared 99.9 percent of their genetic code, scientists soon began to argue that the degree of variation was actually greater than this, and that this variation maps naturally onto conventional categories of race.
Public controversies over issues ranging from global warming to biotechnology have politicized scientific expertise and research. Some respond with calls for restoring a golden age of value-free science. More promising efforts seek to democratize science. But what does that mean? Can it go beyond the typical focus on public participation? How does the politics of science challenge prevailing views of democracy?
Today government agencies not only have official Web sites but also sponsor moderated chats, blogs, digital video clips, online tutorials, videogames, and virtual tours of national landmarks. Sophisticated online marketing campaigns target citizens with messages from the government--even as officials make news with digital gaffes involving embarrassing e-mails, instant messages, and videos. In Virtualpolitik, Elizabeth Losh closely examines the government’s digital rhetoric in such cases and its dual role as mediamaker and regulator.
American public history--in magazines and books, television documentaries, and museums--tends to celebrate its subject at all costs, even to the point of denial and distortion. This does us a great disservice, argues William Hogeland in Inventing American History. Looking at details glossed over in three examples of public history--the Alexander Hamilton revival, tributes to Pete Seeger and William F. Buckley, and the Constitution Center in Philadelphia--Hogeland considers what we lose when history is written to conform to political aims.
The idea of America as politically polarized—that there is an unbridgeable divide between right and left, red and blue states—has become a cliché. What commentators miss, however, is that increasing polarization in recent decades has been closely accompanied by fundamental social and economic changes—most notably, a parallel rise in income inequality.
The shocking statistic is that forty-seven million Americans have no health insurance. When uninsured Americans go to the emergency room for treatment, however, they do receive care ;and a bill. Many hospitals now require uninsured patients to put their treatment on a credit card ;which can saddle a low-income household with unpayably high balances that can lead to personal bankruptcy. Why don't these people just buy health insurance? Because the cost of coverage that doesn't come through an employer is more than many low- and middle-income households make in a year.