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The Web Won't Topple Tyranny 513

An anonymous reader writes "Joshua Kurlantzick of the New Republic online writes that the internet--once heralded as a revolutionary force in politics--has turned out to be surprisingly nonthreatening to dictators and tyrannies. Reminds me of Howard Dean, and the trend to see technological change as a politically progressive force. Maybe this is not such a good idea?"
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The Web Won't Topple Tyranny

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  • by mao che minh ( 611166 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:25PM (#8689834) Journal
    The Internet has brought world news into the American household. Before, we only had the local media and a handful of cable news networks. It has already started influencing how the American people view politics, and elevated their level of interaction with it.

    It is doing the same thing that television did in the 60's, when it brought the Vietnam "conflict" into the living room in all of its horrendous glory. Now we get to read the BBC and get a different take on why the world hates us.

  • No obviously not.. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Pidder ( 736678 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:26PM (#8689839)
    The internet will not topple tyranny when they the evil forces that are supposed to be toppled control it (China). A completely free internet would topple tyranny but they know that obviously and thus do everything they can to control it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:27PM (#8689846)
    Howard Dean was a success story for the internet. He gathered a huge amount of money and marshalled a decent amount of supporters.

    He lost because he stupid campaign manager blew all that money in the insignificant first two states of the primary, mostly fighting against Dick Gephardt-- who turned out to basically be a hopeless kamakaze attack steered into the Dean campaign anyway.

    If it hadn't been for incompetence on the part of said campaign manager, Dean would have won or at least made enough fo an impact you would not now be chiding the internet-oriented aspects of his campaign strategy.
  • Hmprf (Score:1, Insightful)

    by pytsun ( 765818 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:28PM (#8689847)
    "surprisingly nonthreatening to dictators and tyrannies. " Since they generally don't have internet access is those countries, where's the surprise?
  • Exactly (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jim_Hawkins ( 649847 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:29PM (#8689858)
    The main reason that the internet has not been a threat to dictators is that the dictators don't need to control the internet. They only need to control the computers that access the internet.

    This is no different than controlling any other type of media. (Control of presses/television stations/etc.)
  • by James A. M. Joyce ( 764379 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:29PM (#8689859) Journal
    Guess what - neither did the printing press, the telephone, radio or television.
  • by mao che minh ( 611166 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:31PM (#8689880) Journal
    The Internet spreads an idea at a rapid pace, which is what counts. The revolution begins in the hearts and minds of the people. The American Colonies defeated an empire not through tactical prowess or strength of arms, but rather through a guerilla war driven by fierce idealism and a commitment to stop tyranny.

    Well, and with a little help from the French. ;)

  • by Roger Keith Barrett ( 712843 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:33PM (#8689896)
    Don't you think, though, that there is not one single factor that can bring dictators down but it's a set of smaller reasons.

    I think the Internet is a rather strong eroding factor. It isn't an instant fix, but it works to undermind the foundation of these regimes. Someone above said that "radio, TV, telephone" didn't do it either.. right, but the contributed. Nothing works all at once... all the communication together eventually brings it all down at once upon itself, like it did in the USSR.
  • by Catskul ( 323619 ) * on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:34PM (#8689898) Homepage
    Quote from article:
    "But world leaders, journalists, and political scientists who tout the Internet as a powerful force for political change are just as wrong as the dot-com enthusiasts who not so long ago believed the Web would completely transform business."
    Anyone who thinks the web has not completely changed major business has to get their head out of their ass.
    "It has yet to topple--or even seriously undermine--its first tyrannical regime."
    How long does this guy think these countries have had the web, and what percentage of these people does he think use it there? And finally how long does he think it takes for something like this to change culture? Holy Shit Dude! Its like saying: "we started publishing an underground newspaper three years ago, and it has yet to topple Dictator so and so.." Real soulutions take time. Cultural change takes time. And it is WAY to early to be making judgements about the way the web is affecting these places
  • Re:Hmprf (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Daniel Dvorkin ( 106857 ) * on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:36PM (#8689912) Homepage Journal
    Did you RTFA? The major point is that although internet usage is growing rapidly in dictatorial countries, it's not making the difference that early prophets of the internet's potential as a force for freedom had hoped. Which is really too bad. I confess that I was one of those who believed that the internet would be as revolutionary in spreading "dangerous ideas" as the printing press was.

    Of course, it's early days yet. IIRC, the press was generally under the control of The Authorities until a couple of centuries after it came into existence. So things might get better. we can hope.
  • by LostCluster ( 625375 ) * on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:36PM (#8689917)
    One person cannot forcefully overthrow a government alone. The first step in an insurrection is organizing people who are like-minded that the government needs to be replaced.
  • by mabu ( 178417 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:37PM (#8689922)
    But world leaders, journalists, and political scientists who tout the Internet as a powerful force for political change are just as wrong as the dot-com enthusiasts who not so long ago believed the Web would completely transform business.

    This is a classic example of a writer who had an agenda first, and then sought to write a story to back it up. The whole article is bogus.

    The Internet HAS completely transformed business. It has become a major source of a variety of political discussion and activism. Anyone who has been paying attention can see that.

    The mainstream political/business publications are resistant to anything which upsets the existing delicate balance, so they often hold new technology (i.e. things they don't understand, or can't control, or can't profit from based on the way they've been leveraging their power and control) to ridiculous, unrealistic standards.

    So if we put Internet kiosks in a communist country and the regime doesn't topple in six months, that's a failure of the Internet? Get real!

    I know this is nothing new, but am I the only one who doesn't see this new mingling of promotion and editorial which seems to now be totally dominant? An entity "proclaims" something IS the way it IS. Never mind coming up with a realistic explanation. Most people have such short attention spans they don't check the facts or read between the lines.
  • How fast? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by AndroidCat ( 229562 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:38PM (#8689925) Homepage
    After all, tyrannies live in the real world which doesn't move at Internet time. Even if information is available at the click of a mouse, opinions and knowledge still take time to spread--and then have to also act in the real world politics, laws, and other methods of change that take time.

    Did someone expect that tyrants could just be voted out with a web poll?

  • by keath_milligan ( 521186 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:38PM (#8689926) Homepage
    The kind of change the article is talking about can take years, even generations. Widespread access to the web hasn't really existed in most areas of the world but for a few years. Just as radio and television broadcasts didn't topple governments overnight, neither can we expect the web to be able to. But the web will play an important role in change. Those young people surfing pop-culture sites are really the bigger threat to totalatarianism - as they grow older, they'll start to look around and see what people in more liberal, western countries have versus what they have and realize the truth.
  • by replicant108 ( 690832 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:39PM (#8689930) Journal
    It is to be expected that where power is derived form force, the existence of the internet will have little political effect. On the other hand, where power is derived from propaganda the internet will have significant effect. This thesis is borne out if you look at recent political movements in the west, e.g. the anti-globalisation and anti-war movements.

    The number of people involved in the anti-war movement in particular was unprecedented, and depended largely for its success on the internet - both as an alternative news source and as a organisational tool.
  • by Tei ( 520358 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:41PM (#8689947) Journal
    Internet is not only the web, and not all the web is about big webs. Its also small forums, maillist, irc, and instant messagind. If people mix with other, will know about how cool is to live at a democracy country, and be jealous... ..the article is simplistic at first. The Internet is a powerfull tool, with unknom hidden effects long range. I suspect.
  • by Lord_Slepnir ( 585350 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:42PM (#8689953) Journal
    Don't be so quick to discredit those. Those things all had large effects, just not outright revolutions. Without the printing press, Martin Luther wouldnt' have been able to reach as wide of an audience, and the reformation would have died before it could get off the ground. As another poster pointed out, the television brought the horror of the Vietnam conflict to the homes of the American people and was the reason why it was so widely opposed after a few years.
  • by heironymouscoward ( 683461 ) <heironymouscoward@yah o o . com> on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:43PM (#8689958) Journal
    It's true that the internet is not the cornucopia of freedom it was hyped up to be.

    But the underlying premise, that information is essential to liberty, remains true, and the internet as a technology (perhaps not as a product) is the best way of getting accurate and timely information.

    The very fact that the author was unable to access websites belonging to dissident groups proves the point. If the internet was irrelevant, these sites would not be blocked.

    In the past, a dictatorial regime would progressively close off the flow of free information to its populace, the better to feed them the diet of lies that sustain such regimes. These days, that is harder than it has ever been, and this is largely thanks to the internet, including humble email.

    I believe the internet has brought liberty to many people, it's just that the process is incomplete.
  • Re:Makes Sense... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:44PM (#8689964)
    Even though the people do not control the infrastructure, they can still communicate with eachother and that's all they really need. Cryptography and steganography can overlay a completely different structure on top of a restrictive network. It may not be fast, but revolutionaries don't share MP3s. The amount of information which is required for coordinating political action can hide in almost every inconspicuous channel.
  • by ctr2sprt ( 574731 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:47PM (#8689984)
    The theory that media can bring down dictators is based chiefly on one premise: that if people knew what was really going on, they would refuse to stand for it. Unfortunately this isn't really the case. The people of Iraq knew very well what Saddam was up to; they knew about the torturing, the disappearances, the corruption, etc. From the perspective of the rest of the world, maybe we haven't always known, but we sure know now - and now more people than ever are calling the war in Iraq a mistake.

    It's sad, but no matter how horrific a dictator is, everyone will continue to look the other way because it's easier than taking risk to get rid of him. Dictators all know this and exploit it as best they can.

  • by spellraiser ( 764337 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:49PM (#8689994) Journal

    The article is actually rather detailed and well-thought. The author makes some interesting arguments about why the Internet has not been as great a vessel for democratic progress as some hoped it would be.

    One argument is that yes, geeks do not socialize. More specifically, the author argues that the Internet is inherently detrimental to social debate:

    Another shortcoming of the Internet is that it lends itself to individual rather than communal activities. It "is about people sitting in front of a terminal, barely interacting," says one Laotian researcher. The Web is less well-suited to fostering political discussion and debate because, unlike radio or even television, it does not generally bring people together in one house or one room.

    Another argument is that many governments have simply stifled the Internet completely, reducing its utility altogether:

    But the Internet's inherent flaws as a political medium are only part of the reason for its failure to spread liberty. More significant has been the ease with which authoritarian regimes have controlled and, in some cases, subverted it. The most straightforward way governments have responded to opposition websites has been simply to shut them down.

    It goes on to mention a great number of examples of such activities; including government policies in Singapore, China and Saudi Arabia, among other countries. I could not fail to be outraged at reading descriptions of such vile cencorship, which is unfortunately a fact of life for a great number of the world's Internet users.

  • by CashCarSTAR ( 548853 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:50PM (#8689995)
    Actually, speaking as someone who follows this stuff, you're completly wrong.

    The Dean supporters don't see it as a "swindle". They see it as Dean took all the media heat for that amount of time..the first person to hit the beach, and hard. And set the tone for the entire debate in a very positive fasion.

    What did they get? A very good chance of not only getting Bush out of office, but starting a conversation to make real change.

  • by betelgeuse-4 ( 745816 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:58PM (#8690047) Homepage Journal

    The BBC world service was around long before the internet, and offered uncensored news in many different languages. However, it didn't ever cause any revolutions (as far as I know).

  • by lquam ( 250506 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:59PM (#8690056)
    Actually, very little of our revolution was fought in any way as a guerilla war. We fought mainly as a standing army in uniform, albeit one on the run for much of the time. We had spies. The Brits had spies, but in all, it was a quite traditional war for the period in which it was fought.

    As for the internet spreading ideas at a rapid pace, I'd point out that B.S. spreads as rapidly as the "truth" and the poster's point is FAR MORE VALID than it's rating as a TROLL! Like any media, the Internet is infinitely abuseable. When totalitarian regimes know how to use the media to their favor--Hitler's use of radio and poster art comes to mind--the media becomes a method of control rather than a method of freedom. I see the PRC getting very good at making the Internet work for them, and while it may not be nearly so easy to control as print, it can be controlled.

    If you want the old men in Beijing gone, I suggest you start stockpiling guns and put down the mouse.

  • by ShatteredDream ( 636520 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @03:00PM (#8690058) Homepage
    Let's use Iran as an example. The postings that I have read from Iranian activists who are fightin against the Mullahs say that if it were not for the support of the British, French and Russians that the Islamic Republic would be long gone by now. It comes as a shock to many that the U.S. isn't the only country in the world that props up evil governments for its own benefit.

    There is evidence coming out of both the Rwandan government and the U.N. to show that the French government all but carried out the Rwandan massacre. Its officers gave the orders and set up the scenario that made it possible. With a country like France knowingly carrying out those kinds of actions, no wonder many countries are having problems.

    The Internet only works as well as the ability of the citizenry to defend it against government control. Most countries are ruled by a governing elite that make America's look like statesmen. At least in America, the elite has to give a pretense of caring about the common man's rights. In countries ranging from the U.K. to Iran to China, the elite not only doesn't care, but often openly shows its contempt.

    It's a cultural conflict and that's why most geeks and nerds are so poorly equipped to understand it. The average geek/nerd's understanding of politics is basically like CmdrTaco's: "democrats good because they're not religious right, republicans bad because they are." It was sickly ironic that people like CmdrTaco supported Gore, since 2/3 of the things that were wrong with tech policy at the time could be blamed on the Clinton administration. That again illustrates why most geeks just "don't get it."

    Honest political analysis and insight takes a lot of time and effort. The geek mind can deal with it on an intellectual level quite well. The problem though is that society isn't ready for many of the changes. And by society I am speaking more in a liberal cosmopolitan sense.

    Most of the human race is nowhere near as liberal as the average American. That is why most geeks and self-proclaimed intellectuals fail when they try to apply American standards to developing countries. It's not that our cultures are completely equal because no culture is better than another, it's that the spread of liberalism takes time.

    If you want to protect the Internet, work on spreading liberalism around the world. Give money to the Reason foundation, to the Minaret Foundation if you're a Muslim. Buy copies of Reason magazine, Liberty and other liberal (ie neither conservative nor socialist) publications.

    The Internet represents the liberal "end of history" for communication systems. It cannot in the long run work in a world that is largely conservative or socialist.

    Disclaimer: I have for a long time been a harsh critic of the foreign policy establishment in America because of their tendency to betray our founders. Our founders would be horrified to see how illiberal America's foreign policy is today, so do not take me to be some wild-eyed zealot. I may be an American patriot, but i'm also a southern nationalist. For those from South America, remember that we Southerners too are at least semi-victims of "Yanqui Imperialism."
  • by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @03:05PM (#8690083)
    Blame the router manufacturers.

    If I take 4 drums of fuel oil and 2,000 lbs of ammonium nitrate I can plant 100 acres of corn with a tractor or build a car bomb. If I choose the latter it's the fault of the oil and fertilizer companies? I don't think so.
  • by skwirlmaster ( 555307 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @03:06PM (#8690093)

    Absolutely! I recently wrote a paper on the impact of the Internet on communication and education in Africa. Claims about the revolutions were made in nearly half of my sources, although none backed them up. The Internet will not fight revolutions on its own. However, there are problems in Africa that mean most revolutionaries won't have access either way. Illiteracy is a problem as well.

    The problem, in Africa at least, is that computer penetration is low, and internet access is even lower. Not to mention that the cost of dialup in countries like Uganda is about $60, couple that with the phone line which runs about another US$40 (nearly as scarce as computers). The average person in some African nations makes less than US$1500 per year.

    Internet cafes are cheaper, but are still out of reach of most people with charges averageing out to US$30 per month. Public terminals are often not fully featured, many act as kiosks. Access just isn't widely available outside of large urban centers.

    There is also little African content on the Internet, and no one backbone network yet. Most ISPs use VSATs to link to the US backbone. The motivation and power of the Internet must be available or else it can't be harnessed for change.

  • by Hackie_Chan ( 678203 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @03:07PM (#8690100)
    but rather develop better democracies?
  • by poptones ( 653660 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @03:12PM (#8690128) Journal
    So... china is realizing more and more the importance of cooperating internationally on trade issues... India, Spain (and other countries) are installing mega call centers and employing thousands of "new capitalists" all thanks to... the internet.

    What do they expect? Massive incursions of angry libertarian geeks? Dissidents armed with plotters and inkjet cartridges? All change takes time, but the fact you can now get employment in a tin shack in Africa making custom goods being sold in the US - and getting a percentage of profit from every item you make WHILE tracking those items yourself - just screams "empowerment thanks to the internet."

    What happens when the old guard in china dies? Or in Cuba? Does anyone really think the internet won't play a huge role in helping new political groups organize? What about the reporters in China who got news out on Tianninmin using cellphones, fax machines, email and other tools of the (then) infant internet?

  • by zangdesign ( 462534 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @03:15PM (#8690138) Journal
    Let the political class and those who like politics play their game. All I ask is that you don't screw up the economy for the rest of us so we can enjoy our family and community.

    And there's the problem right there - if you don't participate, there's no way that politicans are going to pay any attention to you. Sure the threat that you could go out and vote is going to keep them from doing some things, but not forever. Without that vote, you don't exist for them - you don't matter, not really, not when it counts.

    I really wish we could just say "you boys go have your little fun and when you're done, wash your hands", but it ain't gonna happen.
  • by mishac ( 75996 ) <slashdot&mishac,com> on Saturday March 27, 2004 @03:17PM (#8690147)
    While I understand this point of view, it still bothers me. Yes the politicians are liars. Yes they screw up and often don't care about common people. But you live in a democracy. If you don't like it, change it. A real grassroots effort by the dissaffected in society could change things for the better. Instead people whine and forget that a democracy entails responsibilities, not just rights.
  • by GileadGreene ( 539584 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @03:19PM (#8690154) Homepage
    While I agree with the opinions expressed by a number of the other comments about this story regarding the brief amount of time the Internet has been available in these countries, and the fact that the Internet has transformed business, I can't help wondering if there's not another component missing from this picture.

    It's all very well to talk theoretically about information setting people free, but the bottom line is that if you live in one of these countries and you make "dissident information" available online the authorities will very likely track you down. Similarly, if you are seen to be accessing the IPs associated with "dissident information" you will, at the very least, end up on some kind of watchlist. Sure, the availability of Internet cafes helps some - you obtain a veneer of anonymity by hiding in the crowd - but probably not enough to really let people speak out. What would really help is something like the old (and apparently now defunct) Freedom system that Zero Knowledge Systems put together, which used strong crypto to dissociate sender and receiver from each other. Of course, then the authorities will just pick up anyone producing encrypted traffic. But if all traffic ran through a Freedom-like system...

    Ok, ok, I know that's wishful thinking on my part. But I can hope, can't I? And maybe if enough of us living in countries that still retain some (political) freedom started to make use of Freedom, and encouraging businesses and news orgs to do the same, then it would begin to permeate the 'net as a whole. Sigh, there goes that wishful thinking again...

  • It's wrong to say that the Internet is not democratizing politics, and the author of the article gives evidence of this, in this paragraph quoted from the article:

    "The Internet has had more impact on politics in Malaysia than in Singapore," says Cherian George, who is writing a book on Internet usage in Southeast Asia. There are several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Malaysia committed to investigating the government;... As a consequence, when activists in Malaysia want to use the Web to highlight human rights abuses, George says, they can draw upon the information amassed by the NGOs from their networks of sources.

    Social change is often largely hidden for years before it shows obvious external characteristics. That's what happened in the former Soviet Union. The people did not have access to much information about the outside world, but the leaders had complete access. The breakup of the Soviet Union was largely due to Soviet leaders not believing in their own mental constructs, after years of experiencing the outside world.

    The internet hastens these hidden social processes. For example, all of China's leaders have completely uncensored access to the entire internet. This makes them more aware of their own mental rigidity.
  • by dont_think_twice ( 731805 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @03:24PM (#8690174) Homepage
    Let the political class and those who like politics play their game. All I ask is that you don't screw up the economy for the rest of us so we can enjoy our family and community. The pols just don't seem to get that little fact.

    There is a lot more to the world than just the US economy. Read Nicholas Kristofs NYTimes column today, where he describes the genocide currently taking place in Sudan. Read about the ethnic cleansing and state sponsered rape that is taking place. Then tell me again that the most important thing is that the US economy is strong so that you can own a two story house and drive a Buick and eat a Red Robbin and wear Dockers.

    Here in the US, a politician is judged on whether we are able to buy a Chevorlet or a Cadilliac. In other parts of the world, people are worried about whether their villiage will be wiped out.

    Perhaps if people started to take a more active role in politics, politicians would not be able to lie. We would not be confronted with the choice of one candidate who bends the facts to fit a preconceived notion of how the world works, and one candidate who refuses to take a firm stance on anything, so that he can never be accused of lying. Then perhaps the media would have to do more than play the soundbyte game. They would actually have to analyze the policies of the candidates and explain what the differences are instead of just telling us that we have the choice between a Dumb candidate and a candidate who Flip-Flops.
  • by jack_n_jill ( 642554 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @03:34PM (#8690233)
    The Internet and alternate sources of the news are slowly destroying Israel. Back when there were the big three TV networks in America things were quite different. The combination of Israeli censorship and the blocking of any alternate sources of news allowed Americans to believe the pervasive Israeli propaganda. Back then we believed things like "Israel was a light unto the world" or "little heroic Israel is holding out against those terrible Arabs". These days no one believes that rubbish. The impact of the Internet is mostly on us, the Arabs already know what Israel is.

    This is the same process that toppled apartheid and the USSR. Back then it was FAX machines TV and radio. Once people have access to many sources of information, good and bad, they will begin to make up their own minds. Information is subversive. Information acts below the surface. How it will impact society and when, cannot be predicted. Who would have predicted the fall of the USSR even 2 years before the actual event? The same with apartheid.

    The Internet is only part of the process. It is also the hundreds of TV channels. It is the Palestinians getting better are presenting their cause to the world at large. All of these things are conspiring to destroy Israel. There is nothing that they can do. It is simply the power of truth to defeat lies. The Israeli's think that increased opression will save them. The Israelis have mountains of guns, fighter jets, money and even nukes. None of those things will save them. They are the world's last racist state and the world sees them for what they are.

    They think that high tech weapons will save them. Instead, it is the high tech Internet that is destroying them.

  • by OldManAndTheC++ ( 723450 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @03:37PM (#8690245)
    I think most people are like me. We know that the pol are lying, if it isn't about not having sex it is about overthrowing another country's government. Go ahead and play your games just leave us out of it. The pol like it like that and most Americans like it like that.

    This is a sad comment. For thousands of years people have struggled to gain their freedom from tyrants. Only within the last few hundred years have people been able to take part in running a country. And what do you choose to do with that power? Stand aside and let professional politicians hand the power right back to the ruling class. I guess when you choose to let others make your decisions for you, you get the government you deserve. Unfortunately I also get the government you deserve.

    Let the political class and those who like politics play their game. All I ask is that you don't screw up the economy for the rest of us so we can enjoy our family and community

    Is your own voice worth so little to you? You have sold yourself short.

  • by Mad Marlin ( 96929 ) <> on Saturday March 27, 2004 @03:38PM (#8690261) Homepage
    I am of two minds on that, if people are really looking for facts and views they can find them quicker. The rise of Fox News and talk radio shows that there is another group that is just looking for a filter that reinforces their viewpoint without any disturbing debate entering without being spun.

    No, the rise of Fox News and talk radio is due to the fact that roughly half of the people who are concerned enough to actually vote will vote Republican, yet the majority of the other news outlets range from Democratic to hard left, and display a very condescending attitude towards anybody who disagrees with them. Your comment is a perfect example: anybody who could actually watch Fox News is "just looking for a filter"? Did you ever think that if you are watching CNN and PBS, and listening to NPR, that you are just looking for a filter? More importantly, did you ever realise that, even if somebody disagrees with you, they might not be an idiot, and they might even not be wrong?

  • by OldManAndTheC++ ( 723450 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @03:44PM (#8690291)
    The only way to get rid of a tyrant is by naked force.

    Here is one counterexample []

    Also see the Poland, East Germany, the Soviet Union

  • by iminplaya ( 723125 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @03:46PM (#8690309) Journal
    I would love to see people actually vote out the incumbants, just to see how the gov't would react. They voted in a medical marijuana bill in California. You are aware how the gov't dealt with that, right? Something tells me that they wouldn't think too kindly on people voting for real change. The Americans can maintain their illusion of freedom as long as they don't actually excersize it.
  • Re:Howard Dean (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Nurseman ( 161297 ) <.nurseman. .at.> on Saturday March 27, 2004 @03:49PM (#8690321) Homepage Journal
    And had he been nominated, he would've probably toppled ONE tyranny

    Actually, he would have toppled TWO tyranny's in my opinion. He was the rare politican who spoke from the heart. The political machine of BOTH parties got him. The Democrats were as afraid of him as the Republicans.

  • by RadGeekAuburn ( 556472 ) <> on Saturday March 27, 2004 @03:50PM (#8690325) Homepage Journal

    One argument is that yes, geeks do not socialize. More specifically, the author argues that the Internet is inherently detrimental to social debate:

    Another shortcoming of the Internet is that it lends itself to individual rather than communal activities. It "is about people sitting in front of a terminal, barely interacting," says one Laotian researcher. The Web is less well-suited to fostering political discussion and debate because, unlike radio or even television, it does not generally bring people together in one house or one room.

    This seems like a rather odd statement to make. It seems even more odd to single out as insightful on a collaborative news website read, and contributed to, by thousands of people. I am at the moment sitting in front of a computer terminal not talking to anyone. I am also talking to people. Not anyone in my house to be sure, but to thousands of other politically-concerned people.

    This seems the precise reverse of the confusion that goes on in many discussions about television and radio. In both cases it is a matter of what is seen and what is not seen; but the focus is reversed. Many criticisms of radio and television as media focus on the "passive," one-way nature of the medium. As the TNR article quite rightly points out, this is nothing more than an optical illusion--one that ignores what is going on around the medium and focuses only on what is going on in it:

    In Rangoon, the capital of Burma--one of the most repressive nations on earth--groups of men often crowd around radios in tea shops to clandestinely listen to news from the BBC's Burmese service and then discuss what they've heard. Similarly, in bars and cafes in China, people gather around televisions to watch and discuss the news.

    But Kurlantzick commits the reverse error when it comes to surveying an Internet cafe--he puts narrow focus on what is going on around the medium and completely neglects what's going on in it! It seems to me--and, growing up on BBSs and IRC as I did, it always has--that a considerable amount of Internet activity, and certainly most of the culturally and politically interesting Internet activity, has to do with fostering communities and discussion, not with just sitting around and leafing through an endless library of pamphlets.

    That doesn't mean that these online communities and online communication are a silver bullet for undermining tyranny. Of course they aren't; nothing in the world is. But while this article is thoughtful and raises interesting points on several points, it seems like Mr. Kurlantzick would have come out with a different, and more nuanced take, if he had some inkling of how people use the Internet other than as a way to read traditional magazines like The New Republic. (It's understandable that that's where his focus would lie, but understandable distortions are still distortions.)

  • by bitspotter ( 455598 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @03:59PM (#8690369) Journal
    ...who explained to me that in a dictatorship, it doesn't matter what people think, because you have a gun to their head. If you can control what they do, then what they think doesn't matter.

    Only in a democratic system, where direct extortion is prohibited, does thought control become necessary. When people are relatively free to do as they please does it become necessary to control what they think - and that's what the media cartels have learned how to do.

    The Internet allows for the relatively free flow of subversive thought and criticism, which certianly sparks change in societies where force is not king. But in a dictatorship, That's not enough. Until the Internet traffics in guns, dictatorship won't care about it.
  • by Bearpaw ( 13080 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @04:12PM (#8690447)
    "Let the political class and those who like politics play their game. All I ask is that you don't screw up the economy for the rest of us so we can enjoy our family and community"

    Is your own voice worth so little to you? You have sold yourself short.

    The problem is that it's both expecting way too little and -- in the current context -- expecting way too much. Their games involve screwing up the economy for the rest of us, because that's part of how they win, given the rules we've let them define. Politics can't not involve all of us, whether we actively participate or allow others play the game on our behalf.

  • Re:Makes Sense... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 27, 2004 @04:14PM (#8690459)
    The Internet is like any other human advance. First the disaffected early-adopt it to destabilize the status quo and effect some change, then the status quo masters it, sometimes absorbing some of the disaffected into itself in the process, and uses it to perpetuate itself and then exploits it to enhance its control. This in turn encourages the disaffected to find another tool and so on...

    Hmm, this sounds somewhat fractally like the process of natural selection, come to think of it...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 27, 2004 @04:23PM (#8690503)
    First of all, "the Web" and "the Internet" are not interchangeable terms. I'm tired of hearing from writers who undertake to write about the social implications of technology which they don't seem to understand in depth, who seem to think the network is entirely contained within their web browser.

    To find things on the web, you have to look for them. Revolutionary ideas don't jump out of the web and slap you in the face. You have to go looking for them. Which means 1) you are somewhat inquisitive 2) you know at least enough about what you're looking for to have enough search terms to plug into Google or some other index.
    Which means you are already to some degree indoctrinated into the movement you want to read about. This is why political activism on the web today is something of a global circle jerk. The point of any real change is to bring new people into the fold and spread the idea that they don't need to put up with the tyranny they are living under. Once that idea reaches critical mass, people will get bolder about challenging the establishment, and take appropriate action.

    As a few people have pointed out, people aren't going to embrace that idea unless they are really being oppressed in a way that has affected them personally and perhaps traumatically. Tyranny is an acceptable way of life for a lot of people if they have their basic human needs met. They don't really know how much better their life could be because they've never experienced anything better and they don't miss what they never had. Or they are beat down by their oppressors to such a degree that they no longer believe they have the power to change things.

    So of course the web is not going to be a great vehicle for spreading new ideas. It's just the simplest and most accessible layer of the internet for armchair revolutionaries to utilize and bitch about. It CAN be a great medium for people who are already motivated and are actively seeking what's out there.

    So, the author is half right about the web, especially when he notes that it's an especially easy medium for the despotic governments to monitor and crack down on.

    What really will spread the cause of liberty and bring down the most oppressive and iron fisted dictators and oppressive governments in this world is japanese teenage girls with cellphones.

    You heard me right. Look there if you want to see the prototype for your revolution. That's right... Rural chinese people and disgruntled Saudi youth are not "gettin' a Dell", dude.

    Net connected consumer communications devices will become ubiquitous, and they will support new protocols which are designed from the ground up for social networking. They will support encryption and VPN, and will be all but impossible to suppress. Wireless and satellite have the potential to bypass a lot of the censorship going on at the network routing layer.

    I could give this writer a break for not having the vision to see where things are going, but there is simply no excuse for not seeing how they are today. The people who are living under bad government are lucky to be able to read, have water to drink, and electricity... let alone a computer, internet access, doughnut friday, and a copy of the New Republic.

    reply to sysarcathushcom

  • Re:Makes Sense... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Media Withdrawal ( 704165 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @04:25PM (#8690511)

    After all, the people don't control it. Revolution isn't profitable to those who do control it.

    Sure, access to and control of information are important, but they distract from the Internet's most revolutionary aspect: making it relatively easy to implement new systems of commerce and governance. In other words, the value may lie more with the new processes the Internet allows than with the content it carries.

    Unfortunately, Kurlantzick's article focuses mostly on content and access to content, so it misses this. It also misses the main element of Internet architecture: the revolution occurs at the periphery. As is often the case with disruptive technology, those who directly challenge the old order straightaway get swatted. They're not strong enough yet. The ones who will ultimately prevail over entrenched power will do so by finding and serving unnoticed markets and constituencies.

    Throughout history (especially in Asia) groups that were fussiest about counting beans tended to thrive and rule. Now the Internet arrives, and with automation so abundantly available at its periphery, places organizational powers once reserved for nations and large corporations in the hands of small groups and individuals.

    Because the technology is new, people use it like they did phone, radio and TV. That will change, as it has started to here in the USA. E-bay and have massively shifted commerce, and social networking sites are creating volunteer organizations and political caucuses out of thin air. These changes constitute a revolution that is gradually working its way inward from the periphery. Even in Asia, I expect, if you know where to look.

  • by kfg ( 145172 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @04:27PM (#8690520)
    No, it is because the internet isn't armed.

    The internet is a source of gossip.

    Dictators are a source of guns.

    If you think the pen (or keyboard) is mightier than the sword, let's perform a little experiment, shall we? You grab your keyboard, I'll grab my katana. No, let's make it a little more even. I'll only grab my bokken.

    Please note that my bokken is rather less powerful than a black Ford Falcon full of armed thugs.

    The pen has its greatest power only where there is already a culture of liberalism, such as in colonial America and France.

    The pen did not repel the Turks from Vienna or drive them out of Greece. The Spartans found the pen to be rather useless at Thermopylae and the Athenians likewise at Marathon.

    The arrival of the written word did not topple dictatorships. If anything it strengthed them by allowing the transmission of written codes. The telegraph did not topple dictatorships. Nor the telephone. Radio Free Europe, while a great boon to many behind the Iron Curtain, is not responsible for the fall of the Soviet Union, and a similar project has had no effect at all in Cuba. The internet did not topple Saddam Hussien.

    To topple dictators you need guns. Recent evidence suggests that nowadays those guns pretty much have to be mounted on tanks and airplanes. Angry villagers with torches and pitchforks are no match for tanks and airplanes. They at least need shoulder launched missles.

    Thinking the internet can free Tibet or Burma is a wee bit of wishful thinking. Thinking it would do so in the infancy of the WWW is really kinda silly and smacks of cognitive dissonance.

    Maybe people want to think that it can because it frees them from having to think of guns. We've had some bad experiences with guns misapplied.

    If Burma is going to topple its dictatorship by using the internet, it's going to be to write posts saying, "Please, send us some frickin' tanks!. Oh, and a couple of A-10s would be handy, if you can see your way clear. And maybe some people to train us in their use. Don't forget the ammo."

    Of course Burma is in southeast Asia. Remember my mentioning bad experiences with the misapplication of guns?

    We're a bit, ummmmmmmmm, gun shy, when it comes to southeast Asia. Beating up Arabs sitting on rich oil fields who have been living on nothing but grass for two weeks is more to our taste these days. Asians like living on grass. And they fight back. And they're not good for headlines in an election year.

    Even with the internet.

  • by ArsSineArtificio ( 150115 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @04:29PM (#8690527) Homepage
    As another poster pointed out, the television brought the horror of the Vietnam conflict to the homes of the American people and was the reason why it was so widely opposed after a few years.

    But the television didn't bring home the horrors of the North Vietnamese government to the homes of the American people - the thousands slaughtered or the over a million imprisoned in labor camps. Television, like any other medium, only shows you what you want to see.

  • by fbg111 ( 529550 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @05:00PM (#8690718)
    The rise of Fox News and talk radio shows that there is another group that is just looking for a filter that reinforces their viewpoint without any disturbing debate entering without being spun.

    Liberals love to console themselves by dissing Fox News & Rush as organizations that only "filter" and "reinforce" their own viewpoints, but that's not necessarily the case. Any Conservative or Libertarian will tell you that liberals have owned the American media since the sixties. Liberals attempt to rebut that by saying that mainstream media is not liberal at all, rather it's moderate.

    In actuality, mainstream media may not be as liberal as Liberals think it should be to qualify as liberal, but it's quite obvious to Conservatives and Libertarians that all mainstream news is reported from a liberal perspective, not a conservative or libertarian one. Because of that, there has been a pent-up demand among Conservatives and Libertarians for news that is reported more from their point of view.

    Liberals don't understand that, hence they also don't understand that that pent-up demand is the exact cause of Fox and Rush's success. There's no conspiracy, no right-wing brainwashing, it's just the capitalistic forces of supply and demand. The demand was there first, and Fox and Rush supplied the products.

    Fox, Rush, & co. are reporting and discussing news from the right perspective, the only difference is that they don't attempt to disguise their views or slant their news as liberal mainstream media has done for thirty years. If you don't like it, no one's forcing you to listen or to watch. People watch and listen because they already agree with what is being said, and simply like having someone say it publicly and unapologetically for a change. There's no deception going on.

    What Liberals can't seem to accept is that their strategy of controlling the zeitgist of America by owning mainstream media has been outed and countered. Now all you can do is whine about how unfair it all is, but the fact is, Liberals are reaping what they've sown.

    I can't say much about Rush since I don't listen to him, but isn't it interesting how often Bill O'Reilly invites Liberals onto his show and then argues with them? I can't remember ever seeing a liberal talk-show/news host invite Conservatives or Libertarians onto his show and argue with them. Fair and balanced indeed...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 27, 2004 @05:02PM (#8690735)
    If political subversion becomes so mainstream that kids in Internet cafes are reading political articles, then this tyrannical government is probably already dead.

    Come on, be realistic! How many kids in the US go to political sites? Maybe 1 out of 1,000,000? How many kids in the US even know anything about politics? You might as well do like Howard Stern and go ask a stripper.

    The Web is not a panacea. People still need to care. In China right now, most people don't care, they will just live however they can and try to stay out of the way of the government. Some people where I work even want to go back to China because the living is so good now in their eyes. They don't give a shit about human rights, about the right to criticize the government, etc.

    The fact is that the Web is another facility for those who care to communicate. For example, e-mail was one of the things that kept the world informed about the attempted coup in Russia in 1996. During the Tiananmen Square in 1990, if activists had e-mail, I'm sure they could have been much more organized, and the people of China could have heard about it and the truth of how the army fired on their own people. The fact is that all other means of communication were completely shut down. I have friends from China who at the time knew nothing of the truth of Tiannamen square until they came to the US to study.

    In South Korea, there was a massacre at Kwang-Ju where the army killed dozens if not hundreds of protesters. Again, my friends of Korea at the time said they knew nothing of it.

    If more people had been connected to the web, and e-mails were forwarded like crazy between activists and then finally to the regular masses, maybe something could have been done?

    This is the power of the web, and it is available to many people... it's the activists job to sell to these people that change needs to occur.
  • by bladernr ( 683269 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @05:16PM (#8690838)
    ... Human Rights ... router/filter/firewall ...

    I see your principle, but has browsing the Internet been established as a Human Right? If that is the case, were we all deprived of our Human Rights before the US Military (DARPA) invented the Internet?

    (If the answer is "Yes", I do find it a little amusing that the US Military is credited with creating a Human Right; it is usually accused of the opposite)

    While Cisco and the rest may not be...

    I also understand, and partially agree, with your point, but where is the logical end? Take the case of providing aid to the poor in third world countries. I know that some portion of that aid will be stolen by some dictator as tribute or whatnot, and, therefor, my sending aid is helping a dictator.

    Of course, Cisco's intentions are no where near as pure as someone giving aid, I'm just trying to point out an extreme end to the same line of reasoning. The Department of State (I believe) establishes export controls to police this sort of thing. If Cisco is not in violation of export controls, are they doing something that society has deemed wrong?

  • by replicant108 ( 690832 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @05:20PM (#8690870) Journal
    Worldwide, the numbers were unprecented. Within the UK, the second partner in the coalition, the numbers were unprecented. You may be correct in saying the the current anti-war movement in the US has not yet reached the levels it attained in the 60s, but, as many commentators have pointed out, widespread opposition to the Vietnam war did not occur until well into the conflict. Active opposition to the Iraq war, on the other hand, was occurring at a significant level even before the conflict started.

    All of these facts support the idea that public awareness of global affairs has become heightened. Indeed, if you speak to activists they will confirm that the internet is an important factor in all of this.

    In the West at least, the internet is certainly having a political impact.
  • by Crashmarik ( 635988 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @05:35PM (#8690966)
    I don't want to debate the merits of Fox News or (Talkshow host insert name here). I find it really odd that the presentation of an opposing viewpoint is considered filtering for reinforcing views.

    Its very hard to have a market of Ideas, or a market of anything when there is only one thing for sale. I have always found the traditional media's monoculture disconcerting. Especially when it has become quite apparent that the media will not eat its own dogfood. When Walter Cronkite can get up on his high horse to block wind generation systems because they will block his siteline, or Barbara Streisand sues to prevent a survey of the california coastline because her honking big mansion is on it, I HAVE A PROBLEM.

    I listen to NPR in my car because it doesn't have commercials. I watch FOX News at home because they are willing to call BULLSHIT. If you don't think this is vitaly important take a look at the SCO vs IBM case. SCO completely has played the regular media. If it werent for sites like groklaw and slashdot their stock would probably be at 40 and a lot of poor saps would be really hurt when the verdicts started to come in.

    Yes most people do know the politicians are lying thats why the internet is important. Nobody would go to drudge if he couldnt get the dirt on them.
  • by coaxial ( 28297 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @05:59PM (#8691127) Homepage
    I see your principle, but has browsing the Internet been established as a Human Right?

    No, but free expression of politcal dissent is. The train of logic is that if you provide material support knowing that it will be used to arrest political dissidents, then you are an accessory to the tyrants' crimes.

    The Department of State (I believe)

    It's Commerce.

    establishes export controls to police this sort of thing.

    The export controls tend to deal more with things that can be used against the country of origin. How the exports are used in the country of destination, I don't think are typically dealt with. When exports are limited because of how they are used in the country of destinations, it tends to be an embargo because of some international crisis of some sort. (Or atleast that's been my observation.)

    Quite frankly, most of the time countries don't give a damn about the internal matters of foriegn countries. That's why cheap weapons continue to flow into, and commodities like diamonds flow out of countries with long lasting civil wars. That doesn't make it right though.

    If Cisco is not in violation of export controls, are they doing something that society has deemed wrong?

    While it's not against the law to say "get the hell out of my way bitch!" when you bump into someone all the street, it's not really something society smiles upon either.
  • by zagmar ( 20261 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @06:27PM (#8691321)
    To topple dictators you need guns. Recent evidence suggests that nowadays those guns pretty much have to be mounted on tanks and airplanes. Angry villagers with torches and pitchforks are no match for tanks and airplanes. They at least need shoulder launched missles.

    Wow, disingenuous much? You know what got the British out of India? Mohandas Gandhi and several million followers refusing to obey the laws that the British had enacted. Africa? It was not the Zulu rebellion, it was the expense of maintaining African colonies in general, when compared to the profits made by buying raw materials from Africans and selling them finished product. Radio Free Europe could actually be credited with a great deal of toppling the Soviet Bloc or not, but I gurantee you that it was not guns. It was the Soviets realizing that despite the possible penalties, people wanted Levis and Springsteen records. You are oversimplifying an incredibly complex issue, and at the same time insulting some of the biggest heroes the dispossessed of this world could have. Federico Lorca, a Spanish poet was murdered by the Nationalists because he represented a threat to their power. Pablo Neruda, a Chilean poet, was hunted by the Pinochet dictatorship for the same reason. Mao didn't kill people with guns, he killed those people who were smart enough to disagree with him. Same thing in Cambodia, Vietnam, Tibet, and many other places. The intelligentsia is targeted because it takes education and communication to rebel, not violence. Dictators do not fear people who are prone to violence, they hire them and make great use of them. Dictators fear those whose words may inflame the populace to action. Because as anyone can tell you, if you kill everyone in the country, there's no one left to govern. I suggest you read a little history before making inane statements like the one you just did.

    That said, the internet won't end tyranny because in a situation of true tyranny, the people will have no access to the internet.
  • by benzapp ( 464105 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @06:32PM (#8691350)
    There is a lot more to the world than just the US economy. Read Nicholas Kristofs NYTimes column today, where he describes the genocide currently taking place in Sudan. Read about the ethnic cleansing and state sponsered rape that is taking place. Then tell me again that the most important thing is that the US economy is strong so that you can own a two story house and drive a Buick and eat a Red Robbin and wear Dockers.

    Why would anyone in the US give a shit about the people in Sudan? The people there are barely human. They live in homes less advanced than the homes of a common beaver. They spend their lives rioting and fucking like animals. Agriculture is still largely an unknown concept. Without the aid given to them by Europeans, they would for all intents and purposes be living in a society far less advanced than Greece of 3000 years ago.

    They are in their predicament due to their insatiable sexual desire which has resulted in a population far greater than they can ever hope to support.

    The most humane thing to do would be to sterlize them all, let them live out their lives and then the world will be free of the cosmic mistake which ocurred in that foresaken place.

    Here in the US, a politician is judged on whether we are able to buy a Chevorlet or a Cadilliac. In other parts of the world, people are worried about whether their villiage will be wiped out.

    Me thinks you are filled with egalitarian fantasies of a one world government. Why don't you focus on your own community instead of reading newspapers and complaining about the existence of people you know nothing about. We don't have to worry about being wiped out in the same fashion as them.

    We have created a civilization for that purpose. It is up to the Sudanese to move into the 1st century. Or maybe even the 21st century if they really are up to the challenge. Of course, we know it will never happen.

  • by ph43thon ( 619990 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @06:51PM (#8691458) Journal
    you've been Hannitized, haven't you?
  • by kfg ( 145172 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @07:12PM (#8691572)
    Yes, I am quite familiar with Gandhiji. I'm making a book charka right now. I'm also familiar with the concept of nonviolent resistence. My stepfather was a concientious objector in WWII. That was a pretty radical idea at the time. I myself am a Buddhist and Thoreauian.

    You might find this hard to believe, but the British in India were not a repressive regime, as these things go. Gandhiji spent some time in prison.

    He didn't disappear in the middle of the night. That would have ended his nonviolence campaign in a flash.

    That's what happens in truly repressive regimes. Like Mao's China.

    You are right about the intelligensia though. Sam and John Adams were intelligent and well educated.

    They were smart enough to realize to start stockpiling guns and powder years before the revolution broke out. Which was possible only because they didn't leave in a repressive regime.

    Repressive regimes don't fear words. That's an entirely democratic concept. Repressive regimes simply kill everyone who speaks.

    Without fear.

    You don't have to kill everyone in the country. You just have to decimate them (look it up if you have to. I know the meaning of the word because I spend a good deal of my time reading history). People fall into line.

    It might even surprise you that about 10% or so of the population likes living in a repressive regime. Always have. Always will.

    There's no accounting for people.

  • by abandonment ( 739466 ) <> on Saturday March 27, 2004 @07:24PM (#8691633) Homepage
    indeed, look at how many huge US corporations willingly sell filtering, monitoring or other software and hardware that makes it too easy to restrict access to information, on the label of it being 'dangerous' or 'not acceptable' content.

    Oracle is one of the biggest pushers for this kind of thing, with Mr CEO blatantly throwing his software towards any kind of system that monitors or invades peoples rights it seems...

    of course, guess who benefits from all of these monstrous databases that the government et al are setting up - the big database developers, who get to use the 'we didnt know they were using it for evil' argument just like the german soldiers in worldwar two, or the defense industry...

    'we didn't know they were gonna bomb children, we just build bombs...'

    it's not acceptable, just like it's not acceptable for scientists and researchers to accept government money to develop projects that eventually get hijacked and used for military projects.
  • by payndz ( 589033 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @07:29PM (#8691660)
    It's actually a very interesting piece, don't get me wrong. But the idea that access to information will somehow inspire millions to rise up and overthrow their oppressors has one flaw.

    99% of people in the world aren't interested in rising up and overthrowing their oppressors.

    Think about it. You may be being oppressed, and life may be shit, but it's *life*. You're still alive. Now, given the choice at your local newly-opened cybercafe, are you going to head for a pro-democracy website full of anti-government rhetoric, or are you going to check out for a look at what Madonna's up to? Remember, one of these choices could lead to you being arrested. Pick wisely now.

    It's much easier to get on with your life without worrying about such things. Unless somebody's actually coming to kill you *right now* for your ethnic group/religious beliefs/sexuality/whatever, in most countries you can at least have a life - friends, family, marriage, kids and so on - without the concern that you might be dragged off at any moment and thrown into a cell or shot in the back of the head. So why stir things up?

    (NB: I'm not suggesting for a moment that I think people *should* just knuckle under and accept whatever tyranny happens to be exploting them. The sad fact is, people *do* accept them, because it's much easier than the alternative - running around in the countryside trying not to get shot dead.)

    Governments - of any nation - are more powerful now than at any time in history. And the people who enforce the actions of those governments have guns. And tanks. And helicopter gunships. And a whole bunch of other weapons ostensibly for the 'protection' of the nation that can just as easily be turned against people within its borders.

    Hell, if there's one thing the internet's done, it's shown that democracy ain't a magic wand, at least not the way it's done in the US and the UK. Here are two candidates. They're both rich white guys, and apart from trivial differences over specifics, their policies are practically identical. They also both want government to have greater control over the daily lives of the citizens. Don't even bother thinking about a third alternative, because the media has already turned them into a laughing stock. Now choose!

    I've come to the sad realisation that not one single political party in the UK even vaguely represents my beliefs. So how do I get my voice heard? (Don't suggest 'start your own party' - I'm on Slashdot, I have zero charisma! ;) And if it's like that even in a stable western democracy, what chance do the 'internet dissidents' have?

  • Re:Makes Sense... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Zeinfeld ( 263942 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @07:31PM (#8691671) Homepage
    The Internet is like any other human advance. First the disaffected early-adopt it to destabilize the status quo and effect some change, then the status quo masters it, sometimes absorbing some of the disaffected into itself in the process, and uses it to perpetuate itself and then exploits it to enhance its control.

    The guy who wrote the article does not seem to understand what drives change. I was visitng Germany on a monthly basis during the period when the wall fell, the guy does not have a clue why that happened.

    Sure dissidents and activists play a critical part in a revolution. But their role is secondary, try talking to some. I have met many of the 'leaders' of the year of miracles, what they were trying to do was to share information and ideas, that was what threatened the dictators.

    The Web opens up the communication channels in ways that it is almost impossible to control. The corrupt government of Singapore will get its due sooner as a result of the Web. I know rather a lot about the surveilance they use there having discussed it with some of the Mossad consultants who advised them. The whole state has been designed for surveillance. Every telephone call is logged and they perform network analysis to discover who is talking to whom. The houses are deliberatly designed to actively discourage private entertaining. Restaurants are heavily subsidized in order to encourage people to eat where they can be watched. The result is that any attempt to meet in private is sufficiently unusual to be very noticable.

    This all falls apart if the information does not need a dissident movement to make it through. Look at how hard it is to stop trolls on slashdot. Now imagine that you are a blogger in a 'police friendly' state like Singapore. You have to take some care to cover your tracks but it is not impossible. If the government is not corrupt, why do they need to threaten their critics. Police states suffer from obvious internal contradictions.

    And don't get me started about the idiocy of the great firewall of china. About the only use it serves is to reduce spam and virus outbreaks somewhat. The criticism that threatens the communist party cadres comes from inside the country.

  • Failure. . ? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Fantastic Lad ( 198284 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @07:59PM (#8691821)
    Politics are an illusion.

    Expecting voting to change anything is like expecting the jail guards to be significantly affected by popular decsions among the

    Think of the internet more as a tool of escape.

    My knowledge structure and learning has never moved along so quickly as it has in the last few years with instant access to information. Libraries and the telephone are still useful, but the net moves much closer to the speed of thought.

    As for uprisings against political tyrany. . ?

    I wouldn't rule that one out. One of the best ways to lock down a nation under military rule is to invoke an uprising which 'validates' the use of military force.


  • You don't know what cognitive dissonance is. Cognitive dissonance is a state of imbalance, for instance when a mother knows that a diet of chips and lollies will make her child sick, but she wants to make her child happy and her child won't be happy till it's had lots of chips and lollies. I cannot see how thinking the internet can free Tibet and Burma is a state of imbalance.
  • by kfg ( 145172 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @09:29PM (#8692377)
    Cognitive dissonance is not always concious. The imbalance may be felt and expressed without any knowledge that one's beliefs and actions are being dictated by the imbalance caused by the dissonance, because one way to deal with cognitive dissonance is to repress the knowledge, leading to abnormal psychological states with no observable cause.

    A subtler form of cognitive dissonance by repression is that of avoiding the conflict altogether by refusing to acknowledge two things you know as facts are in conflict with each other. The "imbalance" never occurs because you don't allow it to. If you allowed yourself to conciously "put two and two togther" that would cause imbalance. So you don't.

    Like someone lecturing on Native American culture claiming that they had no beasts of burden before the arrival of Europeans and then going on to describe Inuit culture.

    Explicitly pointing this out to them can make them feel very "itchy."

    Or imbalanced.

    Which can make them angry rather than feeling any state of dilema.

    Because they're in a state of cognitive dissonance.

    An awful lot of anger is unconcious cognitive dissonance. People prefer to hit something than come to a new conclusion.

    Please note that I did not say "thinking the internet can free Tibet and Burma is cognitive dissonance."

    In some people who believe that and something else opposed to it, it may be.

    I believe there are many such people.

  • by OldManAndTheC++ ( 723450 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @01:17AM (#8693752)
    You know why the internet is worthless? The same reason democracy is worthless: the vast majority of people are incredibly stupid!

    Would you choose to live in some other political system? Perhaps you would rather live under one of the tyrants you seem to admire. Sure democracy has its flaws, but it is preferable to the alternatives. Far from being worthless, it gives dignity and hope to people, at least those who know their history.

    This is not even getting to the other major issue: it is the tyrants you condemn that created a civilization within which fellows such as yourself could do something besides hunt and gather fruit. Tyrants grabbed ahold of selfish, aimless people and forced them to be a part of his vision, or leave the tribe. In time, people flocked to the cities created and maintained by wise leaders. They would much rather trade some of their freedoms to live in a paradise free from constant threats of attack, and where creative arts could flourish in peace. Cities of the past had much more trouble keeping people OUT of their cities, than keeping them in.

    True, many civilizations did grow up around strong leaders. However governmental systems have evolved away from the despotic arrangement you describe, gradually distributing power to more of the society: first to feudal lords, then rich merchants, and finally to larger groups like political parties, labor unions and corporations. At each stage the circle has widened and more people have been given access to power. I grant you some have more power than others.

    You unfortunately live in a world where your reliance on others seems superficial and unnecessary, and you do not see how a community unified behind their common goal of survival was once an absolute necessity. Freedom meant nothing if you were dead.

    And I should care about that because...? I'm not scrabbling for roots and berries. I understand my reliance on others - it doesn't bother me. The rewards of civilization far outweigh the drawbacks.

    Do you really think your voice matters? One of 6.8 billion??? Do you think because you can sit here and post on slashdot, or anywhere else on the internet that you will ever affect great change in the world? That you will be able to affect the minds of a meaningful number of people? You clamor for free speech, yet you can do nothing more than whimper.. all the while you delude yourself into thinking anyone really gives a fuck what you say or do.

    Posting on slashdot is not the limit of my contribution. And yes my voice does matter, and so does yours.

    Sooner or later, your own frustration with your own powerlessness, your own impotence will reach a critical point... lets hope you handle it well.

    Judging from your commentary, I'm handling it a lot better than you.

  • by WheelDweller ( 108946 ) <WheelDweller@gmai l . com> on Sunday March 28, 2004 @02:13AM (#8693969)

    The people who lived through the depression and got their MBAs before the fall, and scrounged for food like the rest of us, after, had intelligent, visionary MBA professors. They taught these students that "The moment a product is created, there's a demand for it, however small. The trick is to find it."

    Obviously this was a few years before someone tried to sell a piece of moldy toast on eBay. :>

    I don't know who posited the idea that the internet would help in any way to overthrow governments...was this the guy who dreamed up WebVan? :>

    Sure, it informs....sometimes MIS-informs...but people still have to DO it. And just about everyone who's spent a little time there learns that not everything posted on the net is 'gospel' I ask you: if you learned something awful on the net, would YOU put your family on the line and overthrow a dictator?

    Just checking.

    In memory of the dot-coms: circa 1994-2002

Never tell people how to do things. Tell them WHAT to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity. -- Gen. George S. Patton, Jr.