March 28, 2004 2:21 AM   Subscribe

The web won't topple tyranny. "The myth that the Internet will utterly transform capitalism has died. The myth that the Web will destroy tyranny should perish as well." [Via /.]
posted by homunculus (18 comments total)
I found it interesting that a Congressman is now trying to put forth legislation to make it easier to export encryption technologies to help dissidents in other countries. It's in ironic contrast with the long-standing attempts to control exporting of 128-bit encryption technology.

Also the idea that perhaps the anti-globalization movement is being undermined precisely because the Internet gives 'too much democracy' is an interesting thing to think about.
posted by Space Coyote at 3:47 AM on March 28, 2004

While it's true that the Internet has proved itself able to disseminate pop culture in authoritarian nations--not only Laos, but China, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere--to date, its political impact has been decidedly limited.

But these things take time, no? I have to believe that eventually, with enough exposure to alternate systems, people will demand change.

Hail the revolution! :)
posted by LouReedsSon at 3:49 AM on March 28, 2004

Here is an interesting axiom for you:

There is one, and only one thing that determines if a government stands or falls. It can be called the efficiency ratio of government.

Simply put, it is the ratio of what a government promises vs. what that government delivers.

If the government promises a little or a lot, and delivers, it will survive; if it promises a little or a lot, and does not deliver it, it will fall. The more it delivers on what it promises, the more stable that government will be.

And here is an interesting note: it does not matter what the government promises! It does not matter what the system of government is. It does not even matter if the government is imposed by a foreign invader.

The corollary to this law is that the time varies between inefficiency and the fall of a government. The people may give it more time, in the hope it will improve its efficiency, or not.

The value of this axiom is that it can be looked at independently of all the other factors involved--it seems to be a pretty reliable gauge through history and culture, so is a useful tool in trying to be objective about what a given government's chances are.

Three good cases exist right now to evaluate whether this axiom is valid or not: the governments of the US, Iraq and Afghanistan. Objectively speaking, using this axiom, can you determine which will continue and which will fail? Validity is based *not* on what you wish would happen, but what actually happens--so this cannot be proven or disproven for those three cases for some time.

The hard part is trying to figure out what the government is actually promising to do.
posted by kablam at 7:01 AM on March 28, 2004

It's far too early to be making sweeping statements about the effectiveness of the Web. The author misses two points - that cracking down on the Web inevitably deprives people of information, making the country less culturally competitive in the world. And that the Web is not an organizational tool, but a tool to spread information both inside and outside of a country.

kablam - interesting axiom
posted by pyramid termite at 7:19 AM on March 28, 2004

...the Web empowers individual members of a political movement, rather than the movement as a whole. Opposition members can offer dissenting opinions at will, thus undermining the leadership and potentially splintering the organization. In combating an authoritarian regime, in other words, there's such a thing as too much democracy.

Yes! We mustn't have empowerment of individuals! We must have empowerment of groups, with hierarchies, so that they can seamlessly replace those evil bad governments we don't like with equally powerful governments that will lead their sheeplike populace in directions we approve of!

Also: hey, this stupid intarweb has had almost a decade to get rid of evil dictatorships around the world and hasn't done it yet! So the hell with it!
posted by languagehat at 7:37 AM on March 28, 2004

It does not even matter if the government is imposed by a foreign invader.

kablam, what about a govt. that is imposed by a foreign power (say, Occupied France, 1940-45) whose sole authority is it's military might?

Surely, it will fall only when successfully challenged by superior force? That has nothing to do with "If the government promises a little or a lot, and delivers, it will survive; if it promises a little or a lot, and does not deliver it, it will fall. The more it delivers on what it promises, the more stable that government will be."

The occupying administration did what it proclaimed it would do, and still fell, no?
posted by dash_slot- at 7:40 AM on March 28, 2004

The web won't topple tyranny.

hmm...looks like it's up to me, then.
posted by mcsweetie at 9:26 AM on March 28, 2004

The web wobbles tyranny, but it won't fall down.
posted by john at 9:59 AM on March 28, 2004

You can't really take a magazine seriously that endorses Joseph Lieberman and was suckered by Stephen Glass. TNR wouldn't know a tyranny if it saw one, which is why it has spent the last three years publishing watery "I can't believe I'm in the opposition party but love the president's foreign policy!" articles. I'd rather read "American Rifleman," at least it's honest.

The Internet's way of speedily cutting through B.S. is toppling a tyranny as we speak.
posted by inksyndicate at 10:37 AM on March 28, 2004

Remember back when we all thought the web would topple the corporate strnglehold on business and culture? How did that work out, anyway?
posted by Space Coyote at 10:37 AM on March 28, 2004

remember when we thought life was fair, hard work paid great rewards, and bullies were cowards?

*drops pants, moons parents, teachers and all authority figures*
posted by quonsar at 10:59 AM on March 28, 2004

(say, Occupied France, 1940-45) whose sole authority is it's military might?

"Collaboration was also essential in ensuring that Vichy was given the time and space to reconstruct France along the lines of the National Revolution. With the French population stunned by defeat and invasion, and the politicals of the Third Republic discredited, Pétain and his allies seized the moment to conduct their own ideologically-motivated reforms. To complete their National Revolution, Vichy would have to buy time from Nazi Germany through a policy of collaboration.

Although Vichy volunteered to collabrate for its own reasons, there was, it should be remembered, a degree of compulsory collaboration too. Under Article 3 of the armistice convention, France was obliged to cooperate with the Nazi military authorities who had full rights and powers over the Occupied zone. The French authorities in the Occupied zone were obliged to comply with the requests of the occupying forces, whatever that might entail. The German military authorities had a right to veto any appointment or policy with which they disagreed making a mockery, in essence, of Vichy's claim to sovereignty. Vichy collaboration with Nazi Germany, therefore, was something of an inevitability.

German military presence and the 1.6 million prisoners of war who were de facto hostages helped ensure this collaboration and force Vichy's hand. Vichy was quick to conceal this dependance. On a number of occasions, Vichy gave the appearance of sovereignty by anticipating Nazi demands and making them appear to be French initiatives. Vichy's anti-semitic legislation, and in particular, the notorious Statut des Juifs, can be seen as an example of this.

Collaboration, therefore, was a reality for the French authorities as early as the 25 June 1940 when the terms of the armistice came into force."
posted by clavdivs at 11:08 AM on March 28, 2004

news papers didn't free the jews in Nazi germany.... lets give up on those too.
posted by Tryptophan-5ht at 1:16 PM on March 28, 2004

His argument is okay as far as it goes, but it's based on a false premise. He says:

"My experience in the Vientiane café was a sobering antidote to a pervasive myth: that the Internet is a powerful force for democracy."

I think the myth he is actually thinking of (and arguing against here) is that the Internet is a magical force for democracy.
posted by moonbiter at 2:17 PM on March 28, 2004

Access to sources of reliable information via the internet might help to topple tyranny.

(The word 'reliable' may need to be replaced by some more optimal formula. Facts? Facts that can be checked with other reliable sources?)

The internet is not a source of reliable information. It's an ocean flowing through a tricked-out firehose.

posted by Twang at 3:48 PM on March 28, 2004

Among the endless observations that can be made about the above axiom, I could emphasize (even in the Vichy regime) what government really does.

98% of what government does is ordinary, boring stuff that any government has to do, and the promises relating to *that* is just as important as the "noteworthy" or "historical" activities it does, as far as the people are concerned.

Even Hitler and his government, at the height of the war, spent most of their time dealing with routine management. A "modern" government in a developed country, this includes keeping public water and power working, local police on the street, even snow removal if applicable (ask anybody from Chicago about snow removal and politics--it is the life and death of an officeholder.)

So how might Hitler tailor a promise that he could keep?: "It is wartime, so I only promise to give you 10% of the electricity you are used to."

This, of and by itself is just a promise; but does he keep this promise? If he delivers 15%, he will be appreciated by his public. Only 5%, combined with other factors, he could be at risk.

(BTW, the Nazi magazine equivalent to the US's "Life", was called "Signal". Reading it today is bizarre if only for its efforts to portray wartime Germany as "normal." There is even a picture in one of Hitler giving a blue ribbon to a housewife for her award-winning meatloaf. Really. As a note, Hitler was very popular among German housewives.)
posted by kablam at 8:28 AM on March 29, 2004

And speaking of China: China Detains 3 Relatives of Victims at Tiananmen
posted by homunculus at 9:18 PM on March 29, 2004

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