Monday, April 05, 2004

You don't hear so much from the Silicon Valley crowd lately about how the Internet is a transformative force that will make conventional politics and conventional governments obsolete. They spend more time these days adapting themselves to conventional governments -- like the one in China, where the local conventions of governance include pervasive surveillance, censorship, and violent suppression of dissent.

Every once in a while you see a story about how the leading companies of the American technosphere are happily adding bricks to the collection of technical measures collectively known as the "great firewall of China". But while this one goes soft on the likes of Cisco and Yahoo, it has a new twist:

In 2002, [China]'s leading Web entrepreneurs signed a pledge vowing to promote self-discipline in Web usage and encourage "the elimination of deleterious information [on] the Internet." Some of these Internet entrepreneurs are former dissidents who fled China after the 1989 Tiananmen uprising but have since abandoned their political activism, returning to China seeking Web fortune. In fact, as Kalathil and Boas note, "Many of China's up-and-coming Internet entrepreneurs see a substantial ... role for the government in the Internet sector. ... [They] have visions for Chinese Internet development that are inherently pragmatic and complementary to state strategy." So much for Barlow's idea that technology workers will reject the "tyrannies" of government.

Of course, that's just the Chinese. In America, with our two hundred year history of self-government and vigorous rough-and-tumble politics, it's inconceivable that once-dedicated social activists would make themselves tools of authoritarian troglodytes just because someone promised them a little cash. Right?


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