Want to spruce up your tired old concept? Put a 2.0 on it!

Want to spruce up your tired old concept? Put a 2.0 on it!

Today, Luke Bozier, a former Labour Party web guru who recently defected to the Tories, has an op-ed up at the Huffington Post recommending "intervention 2.0" as an international strategy for responding to the bloodshed in Syria. Here’s how it works: 

Instead of invasion, the new paradigm is to support and encourage grassroots movements inside the borders of countries whose regimes we seek to change. At an opportune moment, Western powers would utilise their unique military assets to ensure a swift, relatively happy ending.[…]

Direct intervention is off the table, thanks to Russia and China’s obstinate position at the UN. So countries like ours have to find ways to support the uprising, without directly engaging the Syrian military. Options include the covert supply of weapons, the promise of exile to senior figures willing to abandon Assad, training, strategic and tactical support to the armed resistance, and the de-recognition of the Ba’athist regime as the government of Syria.

There’s an argument to be made for intervention of this kind, but it’s not exactly a paradigm-shattering approach. The idea of providing tactical support to rebels in countries whose governments we want to overthrow wasn’t even that new when Dwight Eisenhower was doing it.  And Bozier’s notion that "Previously, oppressed people didn’t have a voice or the tools needed to stand up, thanks to the Internet they now do," would have been news to Mahatma Gandhi or the crowds at the Bastille.

This is just the latest example of the rampant "2.0" abuse that has swept through the media and policymaking circles in the years since web 2.0 first became a buzzword. We have Wael Ghonim’s recent book Revolution 2.0. The State Department touts "Civil Society 2.0". (This is admittedly less cumbersome that P2P2G.)

It’s hard to find a political concept that hasn’t been 2.0’d these days. There’s public diplomacy 2.0, counterinsurgency 2.0, Jihad 2.0, war 2.0, Islam 2.0, Christianity 2.0, Judaism 2.0, communism 2.0 and capitalism 2.0, feminism 2.0, Europe 2.0, India 2.0, conservatism 2.0, Obama 2.0, Putin 2.0, Tories 2.0democracy 2.0, energy 2.0, nuclear 2.0, Zionism 2.0, al Qaeda 2.0, multilateralism 2.0, IMF 2.0, NATO 2.0, and environmentalism 2.0.

Mea culpa: FP has indulged in this with pieces exploring authoritarianism 2.0, Libya 2.0, reset 2.0, development 2.0, Tahrir Square 2.0 and more.

The problem with "2.0" is that, in additional quickly becoming a tiresome cliché, it’s often used to dress up not-particularly-original concepts as high-tech, paradigm-shattering developments. Pretending that the rules have completely changed because of the advances in information technology seems like a very easy way to avoid learning from the still pertinent historical examples of the pre-networked world.

As Rebecca McKinnon writes in her new book, Consent of the Networked, "Contrary to what some people may have hoped and believed, the Internet does not change human nature. "It generally doesn’t change the basic rules of global politics either. The basic merits and flaws of an idea like humanitarian intervention still apply — even in a post-Facebook world.