Recently, in light of the stink Google stirred up leaving China, many pundits in the West have opined how the Internet is inherently anti-government, how the Chinese government is too draconian in its control of the Internet, even how the second law of thermodynamics and “freedom” will eventually triumph.
I find by and most these observations to be absurd. While some of the observations have a point: the Internet can be a forum for anti-government activities, and the Chinese government may sometimes lag behind the technological curve (think Green Dam fiasco; but which government has never lagged behind the technological curve?), the Internet and the Chinese government are not inherently antagonistic. The Internet is a legitimate and a fast growing reflection of society. But as the social footprint of the Internet grows, so will naturally the footprint of a government’s attention on it. This chorus calling on the Chinese government to refrain from governing the Internet is absurd. As I wrote in a previous post: a legitimate responsibility of any government is to ensure the Net develops in a way that matches the Morales of the society. I don’t see why the Internet must be a forum where socially subversive activities (where they exist) be allowed to fester.
As for those waddling about the second law of thermodynamics, entropy is not about “freedom” – it’s about disorder. The day the second law triumphs over us, our societies will have disintegrated, cities will be in ruins, the knowledge we have created will be returned to dust, and we as a species will be gone. Governance and human achievement is about creating order out of disorder, not about facilitating disorder out of order.
Anyways – here is a cool video I recently came cross here at a conference at Cancun. It’s narrowly about social media – not the Internet in general – but its point is well taken. Social media (or the Internet in general) is a real phenomenon. It is well and live – in the U.S. – and yes, very much well and alive in China as well, superficial politicking not withstanding.
r v says
it is not that the Chinese people and government do not want Freedom, or do not understand tolerance of different opinions, or cannot tolerate sarcasm or jokes.
It is the universal truth that every tolerant man has his limits, and for almost everyone, that limit is absolute to itself, and that boundary protects what is most sacred.
Some do not believe this is true for Americans. But one only needs to listen to the frustration of the Tea Partiers and the occasional domestic militant fringe groups and anti-abortion bombers to understand that today, the diversity of US’s “tolerant” culture has only led the misguided to become fanatics.
And if one understand the historical lessons of post-Soviet era Afghanistan, it is that Freedom is sometimes the power vacuum that is the prelude to chaos and fanaticism.
Interesting perspectives as always. Freedom can only exist when individuals and society as a whole is responsible, and they are related.
In the U.S., Hollywood often have themes that many would view as against family unity. We all know, kids growing up without the full benefit of two parents commit disproportionately more juvenile crimes. U.S. media do not promote individual responsibility and accountability. U.S. media likes to polarize and frame issues antagonistically between opposing viewpoints (to generate more revenue). U.S. media like to amplify U.S. politicians often unfair scapegoating of foreign countries for their own problems.
Indeed, if this trend continues, I have a hard time imagining the situation improving. “Tolerance” for pushing the extremist views is tolerance per se, but that leads to hopelessness on both sides of the extremist views. That makes for an America that is potentially even more belligerent towards the world. That makes for a country that can easily spark vicious fights between the extremist groups within. In fact, the more the vicious the fights are within, the easier it is to scapegoating to foreigners, in my opinion.
In your opinion, how does America reverse this trend?
r v says
I do not know if Americans as a collective culture (if there is such a thing as an American culture), can come together in collective realization of a self-disciplined limitation on speech.
Currently, Americans have the general attitude of “anything goes,” and they are only told to stop by the legal system if/when they reached the legal limit.
For example, kids bullying each other over the internet. There have been at least two major instances of suicides caused by cyberbullying. In both cases, the people who were doing the cyberbullying didn’t even know that they were doing something quite wrong, morally and legally. Until, that is, the victims of the cyberbullying committed suicide, and the local government felt compelled (mostly because of bad PR) to prosecute the bullies.
Now, that kind of bullying happens all the time, with severe psychological consequences to the victims, but the society just ignores them.
*IMO, Western societies have become a little too tolerant, especially about speech that are obviously wrong.
Another example: A US marine is killed in Iraq, his family holds a funeral procession in Maryland. A local extremist Christian Church protests at the funeral, saying that the soldier’s death was deserved because US government tolerates homosexuals in society. (Snyder v. Westboro Baptist Church).
*Now, I’m one for rule of law, because I am a lawyer. But I should note, what kind of society is this that would need lawyers to constantly remind its citizens what is right and what is wrong?
And if the lawyers/prosecutors/judges are not watching over the society, will this society turn into total “free for all” wild wild west?
*Americans like this minimalist approach to law, where people feel like no one is watching.
But I would prefer a society where people are wise enough to watch what they do to each other.
We call that “Civil responsibility.”
@r v #4
Also, I think we’d agree China is not immune to these types of problems either. For example, if China’s media continue the trend of becoming fully capitalistic, competition may bias them to want to always polarize as we see in the U.S..
So, what’s the prescription against such?
1. A way to restrain harmful speech and disincentive-ize “unreasonable” extremist views broadly.
2. A way to educate society on morality and “civil responsibility.”
What’s the right way to think about tackling these problems?
r v says
It is not that US is lacking totally in moral and civil education. For example, Westerners in general (modern days) are taught from youth to (1) not to spit on the streets, (2) form orderly lines, (3) respect traffic rules when crossing streets.
In these 3 areas, a lot of Chinese people probably do not have the customary education that form part of the moral habits. (but, some educated Chinese people have the good habits).
These have nothing to do with laws, but rather simple cultural training.
*I think in terms of cultural training on self-restrained speech, China has a very long time in history to get the balance right.
Something are irresponsible to be said in open forums, and they should be morally questioned, even if not legally challenged.
Rumors, gossips, bespeaks of the small-mindedness of those who speak them or spread them. And they may be entertaining for some, but they are best reserved for the dark corners of some disreputable places.
Confucius was right, in that educated enlightened wise men do not occupy their time with such things.
If such low-valued speech attempts to get out into the open and stir chaos, then it should be mocked and ridiculed and driven underground.
If some groups of people are not enlightened enough to police their own midst, then the law should step in and do so, before someone is seriously harmed.
*To put in another way:
If Fox News was a bank, then it should be fined for selling all its dishonesty in public.
If banks and cardealers are required to tell a minimum amount of truth and facts (and zero misleading statements) in their businesses, then so should the Media be required, perhaps even to a higher standard.
Social media is just another form of media. It’s not going away, but it’s nothing revolutionary either. And it will deliver way less than what it’s proponents hype.
Agreed. Facebook and Twitter has certainly grown tremendously, but Facebook cannot be compared to many phenomenons – for example Email. The Twitter phenomenon is almost like an Asian SMS finally having caught on in the U.S.. They are all evolution of services on the Internet/WWW.
@r v, #6
This is a really neat way to look at how media should be reined in with the same rules.
George Monser says
I think that good citizenship can only come from good parents and schools, that teach little kids the Golden Rule. The Government can punish, but it cannot make people want to be good to each other. They have to learn that early, from Mom, Dad, and their teachers.
I think that censoring the Tea Party and other extreme groups would just make them stronger, by giving credence to their claims that the US Government is taking away our freedom. It’s better to let them hang themselves by their intemperate speech.
r v says
I think, given the paradigm/frame of mind of thinking in US, censorship even for benign and best intended purposes would be futile.
Ie. the counter argument in US will always be the martyrdom of the cause type argument.
But that only reflects the basic logical fallacy that exists in Western culture, eg. if someone wants to stop me from doing something, I must be doing something right or important. (Or don’t tread on me, I always know what I’m doing.)
If one boils it down, it’s an anti-validation logic, or the anti-heroic complex. The more others hate me, the more I matter to the world.
And what does that give US? Media personalities like Bill O’Reilly, who thrive on lying and deceiving the public.
Some people say, just ignore them, and they will go away, fade into obscurity.
Is that true? Does that work?
Fox News hasn’t gone away, it has thrived on doing exactly that.
Problem is, even if the government doesn’t censor Fox, Fox will thrive on merely being called a liar.
Problem is, extremist groups of all kinds still thrive on the gullible, regardless of whether they are censored.
Western governments can tolerate them if they wish, but I for one, do not believe that Chinese government (regardless of form) should tolerate such groups that deceive the public.
George Monser says
Yes, censorship would be futile here because of our worship of free speech. But if China and other countries can find a better way, I think that’s good. After 66 years, I am personally addicted to free speech, but I don’t think that other countries have to copy us. Cheers, George
r v says
I’m personally addicted to the Truth, and have made a life mission of finding it. Some also call that futile.
When I was young, I asked someone to choose between Truth and Happiness, between Knowledge and Love. In a way, all human beings face that question eventually.
The end of it is, there is no perfect Truth or perfect Happiness.
An imperfect Truth is a small Lie. An imperfect Happiness is also a small Lie.
But knowledge of that small lie makes one want to change, but imperfect happiness merely makes one content with the small lie.
And that, IMO, is the heart of corruption in many nations in history, contentment, to worship a happiness in a feeling of freedom and love and joy without questions.
*It is not censorship that we beget as a right of governance, but the quest for Truth and Justice.
Otherwise, we will claim that we rule by laws but in truth rule by Lies.
@George, r v,
Sorry to barge in, but my personal take on censorship is that it’s really just a form of a regulation.
Consider free market and free speech. I believe China has both free market and free speech, but that it’s just regulated differently than in the West.
Just as no market (of any type) can exist without some type government regulations, freedom in general cannot exist without government regulations. In markets, there has to be regulations that impose some notions of fairness and norms for any market to work. To have freedoms of some things, there has to be set limits on freedoms of other things.
When people talk about censorship in China, people automatically assume that China has no freedom. I disagree. Perhaps freedom is simply regulated differently according to different norms. In China, freedom does not extend merely to speech, or religion, or some notions of democratic process, or even some abstract notion of “happiness,” but also to peace, tranquility, social progress – i.e. social harmony. To have social harmony, certain other rights such as speech may be restricted. The west has this notion, too: to ensure safety of the masses, certain rights such as shouting fire in a crowded theater for the sake of shouting may not be allowed. Perhaps the difference between China and the West is not authoritarianism vs. freedom, but freedom Chinese style vs. freedom Western style?
If we look narrowly only to freedom of speech, I think an interesting question (paralleling r v’s idea of truth?) to ask is: why freedom of speech? Perhaps it’s a cultural thing. Freedom of speech makes people happy. Perhaps freedom to say anything is even a fundamental human right.
Yet that cannot be right: we have regulations against fraud, hate speech, child pornography, conspiracy, etc. Obviously, one cannot say whatever one wants.
Perhaps it is an important part of a democracy. A democracy can work only with informed participation by the people, and people cannot be informed without freedom of speech.
But if that’s true, does freedom of speech really help to inform people? I don’t think so. Just like efficient and effective markets need to be regulated, so does an effective and efficient marketplace of ideas. If we allow fraud and misinformation out, would the public really prune those out or would the public become deranged en mass? FOX, CNN, and today’s NYTimes are part of my proof that freedom of speech per se does not produce truth.
Perhaps journalists need to be licensed and properly trained. Perhaps freedom of speech need to be viewed as not just a process, but as a process that achieves some ultimate goals (truth, as r v may put it). If China does regulate freedom of speech in a way that facilitate societies to make smarter choices rather than succumb to self delusion, perhaps it is a superior kind of freedom of speech after all?
r v says
Similar to my point, one man’s happiness may infringe upon another’s.
I think Modern day democracies take the idea of individualism too far.
Afterall, even Adam Smith, who coined the invisible hand, advocated heavy government regulation.
In fact, modern Western cultures have twisted Adam Smith too far from his original writings. The “invisible hand” he wrote about was only a small part of his Wealth of Nations. His other writings heavily advocated government regulations to curb what he viewed as rampant corrupt tendencies among the wealthy.
Likewise, the Founding Fathers of America view Freedom in a more disciplined approach. More specifically, Jefferson viewed a society with a complete separation of government from religious influences, and the ordinary citizens live up to civil and civic responsibilities by extensive education through Universities.
*I believe Western cultures have over-celebrated the individualism, and overlooked the collective.
And like it or not, Freedom of Speech is not about the individual, it is about the collective.
One man isolated on a deserted island can have as much Freedom of Speech as his wishes, but it would be pointless, because there is no human being he can speak to.
Freedom of Speech is about communicating to another, to communicate to a collective, or a part of a collective.
The collective thus is affected by the freedom of speech exercised by any individual, and thus, such expressions must be regulated in some fashion.
In most instances, such expressions are beneficial or at least harmless, and the government does not regulate them.
But that is a choice, made by the collective, to set a standard of whether to regulate some speech.
That is not only necessary, it is a civil and legal responsibility.
r v says
The point is, there must be a balance, which is a very Asian Confucian Daoist Zen cultural value.
Truth is vitalized by free expression of varying opinions, but should not be so varied that Truth is corrupted by lies.
What is the point of having varying opinions? To find the Truth in them.
Granted, some Truths appear to be false in the beginning, such as whether the Earth revolved around the Sun.
However, that is precisely the kind of false opinions that jailed Galileo, that is the basic lie of jumping into conclusions emotionally.
Consider that if there is a question A that cannot be proven or disproven to sets of possible answers, then why jump into conclusion that some of the answers must be wrong?
Consider today the Tea Partiers’ eagerness to condemn and fear everything Obama is doing. Why? What logic is behind their arguments?
*If I should compare Obama to the Dalai Lama, has Obama claimed reincarnated Godhood in US? Has Obama lead an armed revolt to disintegrate USA? Has followers of Obama called for armed “uprisings”? Has Obama ruled a segment of population with absolute power for the last 60 years with rampant nepotism and corruption?
If you can see the clearly the factual comparison of the history of the 2 men, then you can see that some are jumping to conclusions on Obama, but also blinded to the Truth on the Dalai Lama.
r v is referring to 中庸, a teaching of Confucius which promotes balanced views (a concept like YinYang). Our logo for the Hidden Harmonies web address, “中” is derived from 中庸. I hope to write a post about 中庸 in the future.
I saw an interesting commercial while at lunch few days ago at a restaurant. Basically, the company was advertising to those with more than $5,000 in credit card debt, and the service offered was “financial FREEDOM.”
Interesting use of the word “freedom.” The first thought that ran through my mind seeing the commercial was “financial IRRESPONSIBILITY.”
I thought the commercial was asking people to get further into debt and to pay this company to file personal bankruptcy for them. An irresponsible way is always the easier way in the short term, and I doubt most of the company’s customers fully understand the long term consequences.
r v says
Freedom in its core is a power, and like any other power, can be corrupting.