Friday, May 16, 2008

A case study in differential diagnosis of protestors' motives:

Let's say that you don't much like Chinese censorship of the Internet, or American cooperation with the same. Where might you protest, and why?

Ultimately, this is a matter of Chinese law, which can't be changed by anyone other than the Chinese government. So, you might protest there --- but the Chinese government isn't exactly known for its concern for the views of foreign protestors. So, are there other possibilities for a protest that might actually have some use?

As it happens, there are American companies who are bending over backwards to help the Chinese secret police. And it might make a difference to protest them. You might start with, say, Cisco, a company which aggressively markets and shamelessly supplies the technology that the Chinese have used to build the great firewall. Or, say, Yahoo!, which has cooperated with Chinese prosecution of reporters for revealing "state secrets" (which, in China, means any information that any bureaucrat finds inconvenient), and then lied about it.

These are what you'd do if the aim of your protest was to improve the world. On the other hand, if the aim of your protest was to prove your own virtue, and to heck with the rest of the world, there might be a more attractive target. Say, Google --- a company which, by contrast with these other two, does the bare minimum required to comply with Chinese law, limits its activities in China to minimize even that, and publicly wrings its hands over that level of cooperation, even though the only alternative would be to stay out of China altogether. And which, by the way, doesn't make a difference in China --- because of all this, their market share there is in the dumps.

If you protest against Yahoo! or Cisco --- well, it's not much to be better than those guys. But if you protest against Google, you prove to the world that you're better than the Googlers! They're proving their virtue by limiting their activities, but you're proving your superior virtue because it's not good enough!

So, guess where the Billboard Liberation Front was doing street theater the other day, with physical representations of the "Great Firewall of China". At Cisco, which supplied the bricks and mortar? Nope. At Google, which is trying to limit the degree to which they're compromised by it.

So, here's where we are. If your company enthusiastically buddies up to the corrupt authorities in an unavoidable, large, and growing market, these clowns will quietly leave you alone. On the other hand, if you limit your cooperation, and publicly agonize about it, they will go out of their way to embarrass you at your shareholders' meeting.

To encourage socially responsible behavior. Or to demonstrate, by comparison, the superior size of their ethical dicks. Whichever.

The sad thing is, I don't even like Google. Among the many things they do that piss me off: pervasively click-tracking any American internet user who doesn't adopt stringent technical measures to avoid it, and getting buddy-buddy with the American intelligence agencies --- marketing technology which no doubt gets used for surveillance here, and who knows what else. But the first issue is harder to explain, and the second has moral ambiguities that someone with more of a public profile might notice. So, neither issue is really suitable for a quick ethical dick-length demo. And so, China.

1 Comments:

Anonymous cgeye said...

Which is why demonstrators will concentrate on the DNC rather than the RNC, which would actually rustle up counterdemonstrators willing to fight under the non-watchful eye of the authorities.

Or why rioters tear up their own neighborhoods. Both groups don't really believe in either testing or risking their beliefs and lives against real enemies, either for dialogue's or confrontation's sake.

4:01 AM  

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