The last week or two, we have seen a great humanitarian crisis building in Europe with waves and waves of refugees pouring into Europe from neighboring Middle Eastern countries … with many dying along the way … and even children washing up on resort beaches.
The debate in Europe appears to focus primarily on how should the various nations shoulder the responsibilities of accepting the refugees. Germany by far has been the most open-armed, although there are anti-immigrant feelings spewing in the nation as well.
If there is a religion in the modern world, it is the fanatic belief in democratic self-governance. From a philosophical perspective, the legitimacy of democratic self-government requires the notion of a public forum – a democratic corpus, a public sphere formed by citizens, if you will – to frame, debate and discuss political issues and events, free from “government interference.” This might be called a public sphere of privacy (privacy from government), rather than a private sphere of privacy (privacy from other citizens), and is essential to the working of a democratic government. It is of utmost importance to keep this public sphere vibrant and pure because in today’s paradigm, all governments have a tendency to to intrude, dominate, and control for its benefit at the expense of that of the people. And a democratic government means little if people’s thoughts and voices can be manipulated, coerced, manufactured, or censored. A belief in the vibrancy of the democratic corpus to deliver good governance (with that, justice, prosperity, “freedom,” and peace) represents the very soul of the modern democracy religion.
Yesterday, the U.S. marked the 50th anniversary of the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” It was in that event 50 years ago that King gave his famous “I have a Dream” speech. By most accounts, Obama’s speech is well-delivered and well-received – albeit “not as good.” It could not be, Obama would explain, “[b]ecause when you are talking about Dr. King’s speech at the March on Washington, you’re talking about one of the maybe five greatest speeches in American history. And the words that he spoke at that particular moment, with so much at stake, and the way in which he captured the hopes and dreams of an entire generation I think is unmatched.”
By the answers, I am hoping to gauge people’s attitude toward Snowden. For me, I am neutral. I personally have nothing against government “snooping.” I have nothing to hide in general. As long as they don’t pick on me for little trivial things (I trust governments generally enough that they wouldn’t), I have nothing against government tapping, government cameras, government sucking of emails, etc. So what Snowden has revealed does not hit me in the stomach on that level.
However, I believe what Snowden has revealed is important in a geopolitical context. Previously, we thought of the Internet as “free” – run by innovative Stalwart companies devoted to freedom, free from government interference. Now we know the vastness of what we consider to be “free internet” is merely a very nationalized network space that is compatible with one specific set of values and that is at the core of 21st century geopolitical competition.
That’s an important insight for humanity to know.
So – should China…?
[Editor’s Note: clarification added 2013-07-09]: From the above write-up about “geopolitical context,” one might misunderstand me as saying that what Snowden has to say has no relevance to Americans and relevance only to the rest of the world. That’s not what I meant. To the extent Americans are world citizens, they should care. They should understand so they understand why the information they get online in the so-called free internet (and also why the information they get in the so-called free media, why their very perspective about the world, about history) may be so biased and American (or Western)-centric. And then perhaps they may understand why so many things they had taken to be Universal may just be American (or Western)-centric. What Snowden revealed, and he may not even understand it, is to change the paradigm by which we view the world by revealing a blindspot we had universally taken for granted. Others have noted the dangers of relying on “google” for all information on the net – because that essentially allows one entity – which is not beholden to the “people” per se – to define our knowledge, our worldview, our identity… It is equally dangerous to rely on the falsehood of a universal, free internet for our information because there is no such thing as a universal internet. Language and cultural barriers would have fragmented it fr0m the start – though now we see politics from the U.S. already set it up to fragment from the very beginning, too.
Unlike many of the bloggers here, I’m not a big fan of Eric X. Li’s writing and speeches from what I have so far seen and heard. I disagree with what he has said as they are either irrelevant, confused, contradictory or a strawman. I think I have expressed why I felt this way in the comments section of the latest blog on Li but there still seems to be some misunderstanding between Allen’s interpretation of Eric and myself.
Here I’d like to give a more detailed explanation of why I didn’t think Eric’s interview was that interesting or even helpful to bettering understanding between China and the west. I did agree on some things but found myself disagreeing far more often. I do not believe that Eric’s view represent much of what the Chinese government’s views which I think are primarily very sound. It’s a shame that people may misconstrue Eric’s views as a defense of China’s view because they are quite different.
We are excited to officially launch the 2012 Hidden Harmonies Essay Contest. In doing this, we hope to bring more awareness to the ‘Chinese’ perspective. The best 3 essays will be awarded prizes with an iPad 2ipad 3 going to the top essay. This year’s topic will answer the following question:
Every society has a set of values around which it builds its culture. The West likes to think its most important value is freedom. What do think are the most important Chinese values, and how do you think they might be better than those in the West?
As regular readers of this blog may know, we are fans of Eric X. Li. In this video below at the Aspen Institute, Anand Giridharadas (of NYT) interviewed him in front of a live audience. As Giridharadas said at the introduction, Eric indeed shakes the foundation of prevailing Western views present in the room. I especially liked his confident and forthright answers to a shaken audience towards the end. Eric characterized the Western peddling of values with universality – (in my view, a form of intolerance, really) – and the Chinese non-interference and acceptance of each culture’s values is in fact pluralism – IS SPOT ON. The video is a bit over an hour, but we highly recommend it.
According to William Hooper, Western lead Democracy has peaked. He believes the baton will be passed unto China, and a new Age of Enlightenment, one that is going to be improved upon with China’s concept of Scientific Development, will start. Those of you who observe China may know that this political philosophy was advanced and officially adopted into the CPC (Communist Party of China) constitution in 2007. Hooper has taken a lot in and articulated this idea for the Western audience.
For many Chinese website operators, 2009 didn’t start very well. China Internet Illegal Information Reporting Centre, a semi-government agency, has published a list of websites which contain “vulgar and unhealthy information” deemed to be harmful to the country’s youth. The list (in Chinese) can be found here.
The interesting thing about this list is that it covered majority of the most popular websites in China. Google was ranked number one “vulgar” site (see, e.g., NYTimes article), followed by Baidu and Sina.
Increasingly, self-determination is used as a rallying cry for separatist movements around the world, from Kosovo to Tibetan independence. Many separatist movements have leveraged symbols of European Imperialism to cast their cause as a fight for freedom.
On the one hand, such use of self-determination seems to be appropriate. The West conquered a large part of the world over the last 500 years, causing wide devastations and detriments to many peoples across the world. Calls for self-determination by former colonies in the aftermath of WWII rightfully became a rallying cry for all dispossessed people in the world.