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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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  • Makes Sense... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Kid Zero ( 4866 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:23PM (#8689819) Homepage Journal
    After all, the people don't control it. Revolution isn't profitable to those who do control it.

  • by LostCluster ( 625375 ) * on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:29PM (#8689857)
    People like to say "The Internet treats any form of censorship as damage and tries to route around it." and in most cases that's true. If a router is refusing to allow access to another address, the router before it will attempt to find another way to get the packets to where they're supposed to go.

    However, if the only ways out of the house/building/campus/country on the network are all controled by the same sensoring authority, there's no way to get there from here. So, Tyranical goverments just need to maintain control of all wires leaving their country, and prevent people from owning satellite dishes and then they'll be all set at blocking sites that they don't like.
  • by temojen ( 678985 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:31PM (#8689877) Journal
    It seems like brute force is the only thing that works for breaking down tyrranies...

    Carefull there...

    This kind of thing is best posted AC through anonymizing proxies, lest the biggest tyrants brand you a "terrorist".

    Although, your posting history tends to suggest that you have been trying to disrupt communication systems, so you might technically be a terrorist.

  • Is this a surprise? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by igotmybfg ( 525391 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:32PM (#8689888) Homepage
    There's quite a difference between a person who puts up a blog and a person who, for example, leads an armed insurrection against a bastard dictator. I submit that the ability to type and the ability to forcefully overthrow a government have little in common...
  • by k98sven ( 324383 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:35PM (#8689908) Journal
    I don't get this guy.. He's pointing out that he visited an internet cafe in Laos, and despite its existence, their oppressive regime still stands!

    How strange. Or?

    Most people in Laos can't afford to go to an internet cafe and read the censored news - or possibly gain access to the uncensored ones. How could it possibly make a difference?

    The internet is a medium, not a means. You need to have an organized opposition to effect change. You need support. You need a lot of things other than just the means of communication.

    Instead, he should be looking at the places were these kinds of things are in place. Such as Iran. And you will also see the use of the internet. And these places are progressing*.

    (*Although I'll be the first to admit to the recent setbacks in Iran. But on the other hand, the Ayatollahs wouldn't be acting if they weren't threated, would they?)
  • Not surprising... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Sexual Ass Gerbil ( 728400 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:42PM (#8689954) Homepage Journal
    Freedom of speech undermines revolution. If you don't have the freedom to speak your mind, you build up anger that you can't release. Eventually enough people build up enough anger that they do speak out and with critical mass they form a revolution. After all, if free speech is outlawed, you better arm yourself if you want to speak out.

    Free speech generates a culture of back seat driver, couch potato swear-at-the-images-on-your television citizens. It's better to let out anger than leave it in. I think I like it that way. It's better than revolution.
  • by Random Guru 42 ( 687672 ) <chris.coldacid@net> on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:56PM (#8690035) Homepage Journal
    Orwell saw that back when he wrote 1984! Ever considered how that whole editing process worked? Or the telescreens? That's technology for you!
  • by pben ( 22734 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:57PM (#8690041)
    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.

    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. Democracy is fairly dead when only 45% of the registered voters vote and only 50% of the people register to vote.

    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.

  • laos'd world (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @02:59PM (#8690055) Homepage Journal
    What he got in Laos was not the Internet. It was a Potemkin [yahoo.com] internet (small "i"), where the government controls the access to controversial people. The Internet is not the threat to tyranny, people are, when using the Internet. The people of Laos are uniquely tyrannized, after their 1970s holocaust [dithpran.org] which killed millions of people, on the basis of their education and independence. And Laos is just now getting any kind of internet at all, or even foreigners. In a few years, after the inevitable noise in their tyranny signal buzzes the people with any alternatives to the official truth, confirming the crazy ideas of the bearded backpackers scrambling through their mountains, their government will have a lot more trouble monopolizing the minds of their people, leading to the dissolution of their _1984_ [wesjones.com] style dystopia. From which they will likely move to our own _Brave New World_ [somaweb.org] style dystopia.
  • WTF? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by CashCarSTAR ( 548853 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @03:00PM (#8690060)
    "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."

    That's a big Whisky Tango Foxtrot. A huge one.

    Where has this guy been? The reason why the internet is so useful is EXACTLY that reason. It doesn't need people in one house, or one room. People can be comparing ideas and improving them from across the street, across the state or across the world.

    The world is run by ideas, and only by improving and refining those ideas can any progress be made.

    It's open source politics, that's really what it is. And to think that it's not changing things, well..you might as well think that linux isn't changing things.

    Check out Eschatron [blogspot.com] or Daily Kos [dailykos.com] to get some of the best examples of this principle at work.

  • Re:China (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mike collins ( 576863 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @03:03PM (#8690073)
    Here Here... When will people figure out that the west is not the only way to live.. Bobdamn Ethnocentrists. You put it well.
  • by Everyman ( 197621 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @03:04PM (#8690078) Homepage
    Techno-utopianism predates the Internet; it goes back to the Macintosh:

    "HyperCard is uniquely suited for activist causes. It goes without saying that its great ease of use and flexibility favors the underdog. Activist groups have often relied on people power and maneuverability to counteract the brute economic and political force of various Powers-That-Be; HyperCard can enhance both of these advantages."

    -- "Signal: Communication Tools for the Information Age (A Whole Earth Catalog)," Kevin Kelly, ed. Foreward by Stewart Brand. Point Foundation, 1988, p. 164.

    Today the same religious zeal can be found among Google cultists.
  • P2P (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @03:04PM (#8690080) Homepage Journal
    The principle is that if people can communicate with each other, rather than rely on the mediation of the dictator, they are harder to tyrannize. In Iraq, Saddam stayed in the center of the "public". We'll never know whether the Iraqis would have gotten rid of Saddam once they got freer communicaion, because the US cheated them of their chance at an American style revolution, in favor of a murderous nanny "rescue" that disempowers the people yet again.
  • by DietVanillaPepsi ( 763129 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @03:05PM (#8690089)
    The internet has helped to relieve the political stagnation that occurs when news sources are limited to the major newspapers and television networks. On the internet, you can be exposed to so many differing opinions regarding political current events that it is possible to have a more fully-informed opinion (or at least believe that you do).

    The internet also provides an outlet through which the average somewhat Internet-savvy person can do their own pissing and moaning about the state of things.

    Those who live under tyrannical governments do not be an outlet through which they can express their opinion without their being repercussions, therefore the internet as a political tool is largely irrelevant in said countries.

    But the internet has been a tremendous tool in turning the tides against political apathy. That, or those who were already politically aware and active are just using a new tool to get their views out. Regardless, it can only be viewed as a good thing in terms of it leading to more political awareness.

  • by Incognitius ( 690760 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @03:12PM (#8690123) Journal
    Well, there are several issues to be considered here before Mr. Kurlantzick gets ahead of himself.

    The internet is a relatively new phenomenon. In many areas of the world--especially Laos--it has not undergone mainstream proliferation. Many Laotians do not have access to the internet, and contrary to this article's claims, many of them are still illiterate. Those who can read can only read the Lao language. Until the Internet has mainstream acceptance among the mainstream of Laotians, there will be little revolutionary activity. This will take time, of course, because revolutions aren't born overnight. As says the historian Howard Zinn, "so far, human history has consisted only of short runs."

    This, of course, assumes that people want to revolutionize. Erich Fromm's _Fear of Freedom_ suggests that "individuals, and therefore societies, have an innate tendency to revert to systems of political and cultural restraint rather than to take advantage of opportunities for freedom or emancipation--and that they may actually seek out governments to control them rather than face the prospect of individual freedom." That Laotians do not revolutionize is not an inherent limitation of the internet but rather an inherent aspect of human nature.
  • by danharan ( 714822 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @03:20PM (#8690158) Journal
    It's nice to see some people pointing the finger at others besides just he US government.

    To say the French government all but carried out the Rwandan massacre is over-stating it. Boutros Boutros-Ghali knew (got Egypt to start selling them weapons before being SG), the US knew, the Belgians knew, the Vatican knew and the World Bank knew. The French were bastards as usual (this coming from a French citizen), but you can't lay all the blame on them.

    In most cases, the French, Russians, UK and US have common foreign policy objectives. Burma and Iran could be democratic if any one of them would be so kind as to stop their support for nasty regimes.

    And that brings up a fundamental point the reporter seems to have missed: if we in the west can use the internet (not just the web- he apparently can't tell the difference) to pressure our governments to stop supporting dictatorships, and companies to stop doing business with them... we might actually see a bit more democracy.

    This is happenning slowly, and as pressure increases on dictatorships, we might see another wave of democratization.
  • by OneInEveryCrowd ( 62120 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @03:42PM (#8690278)
    In the early days of radio some people actually believed that putting radios in police cars would end crime and that radio was a force for world peace. When television was new it was assumed that it would be educational and raise the level of literacy.

    I don't see much difference between these earlier beliefs and current superstitious ramblings on by baby boomer journalists about the power of the internet.

    The internet eventually will make a difference in politics because it's how people communicate. It just won't be as magical or quick as some of these writers assume
  • by danharan ( 714822 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @03:59PM (#8690373) Journal
    True. Non-violent action usually does.

    Remember the fall of the Berlin wall? Around that time a third of humanity rid themselves of dictators mainly through non-violent action.

    Now, non-violence does not always work (Tien an men square...), nor does it always work fast (South Africa, India, Burma, Tibet...) but then neither does violence. With Afghanistan slowly going back to the Taliban, that lesson should be clear.

    Also keep in mind that the people that you train to use violence can then use it against you- another lesson that should have come out of Afghanistan.

    I'd rather trust in organized, informed non-violent groups than in gun-toting ideologues. I'll choose the internet over guns any day.
  • Perhaps SMS (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Avumede ( 111087 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @04:08PM (#8690430) Homepage
    SMS may be the real revolutionary technology. They have recently been a huge factor [iht.com] in the upset in the Spanish election. Flash mobs have also demonstrated their power in producing spontantenous actions that are utterly unpredictable by the people in power.

    It may not serve to get foreign ideas into a populace, but it can greatly accelerate the spread of ideas in a way that is uncontrollable.

    I'm optimistic for the future.
  • Improving Life (Score:2, Interesting)

    by PingPongBoy ( 303994 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @04:40PM (#8690576)
    The Internet can improve the average life of everyone by aiding technological progress. In the long run people everywhere will gain access to the basic necessities of life and have economic opportunities for improving their own lives.

    An important thing is to communicate about abusive leaders, problems, and solutions.

    People all over the world feel more unified with instant communications, but it is still hard to express in words what is happening. Bandwidth and recording limitations permit some grainy videos to be seen. We're just overwhelmed by the number of issues. It's like arriving at the scene of a fire. 99% of the time there are legions of firemen already there and you don't want to interfere. Similarly, people who are reporting about problems in detail on the Internet are on top of the situation and the rest of the world waits mostly to see if the people handing the situation are doing a good job. The sentiments of the commissioner of the National Hockey League - he doesn't take sides in the Stanley Cup finals; he just wants good refereeing.
  • the new media (Score:5, Interesting)

    by corporatewhore ( 308338 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @04:53PM (#8690664)
    One of the more interesting points that I think is being overlooked is that the digital media makes the past mutable - look at the Time magazine article that was not just pulled but the entire online edition redone to remove all references to the article (GW1 on the first gulf war), effectively vaporizing the past in a very 1984-esque manner. Were it not for sites like the memory hole we might not even have been aware it was de-existed. Also, the new graphics technology makes it possible to produce almost any photo you would like to have (there was a thread on idymedia about CNN using a doctored photograph just today, for instance, though they aren't sure who specifically doctored the shot). History has become mutable (changable), and unless you were there and saw it you no longer can be sure of anything you read or see online. With this in mind, the internet has the capability to become quite the Orwellian tool for mass manipulation.

    While studying CS in school, our graphics teacher said the holy grail of computer graphics was to produce an image that was indistinguishable from a real photo. I asked him if he considered the social implications of such technology...he said "no"...that chilled me then, and still does.

  • Re:P2P (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @05:02PM (#8690731) Homepage Journal
    No, we insulted the Iraqi people by destroying their country for them, rather than backing them in a revolution toppling them. So we've set up a tremendous victory for those "crazy" Shia mullahs (and their crafty Ayatollah Sistani), whose sharia constitution was stopped only by interim dictator L. Paul Bremer's veto. The French could have screwed the cause of American liberty in the 1770s by fighting the British on our behalf, and we'd all be speaking French now. That "end justifies the means" ignores the living artifacts of the means that bite us in the end. Now we've got an Iraq which wants the US multinational carpetbagger corporations out of their oilfields, a Mideast which wants the US invaders out of any "peace process", an old world which wants the US out of any WMD control program, a globe which wants the US out of any human rights or military engagement regime, an American people which can't trust Presidents about terrorism and war linkage, an American military which can't trust Presidents or the Pentagon about terror/war linkage. Sounds like a debacle to me. We can't undo that - we have to clean up the mess. But we can't pretend that Iraq wasn't an unprecedented mistake. Otherwise, we'll just do it again - and the damage is cumulative.
  • Makes sense... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by splerdu ( 187709 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @05:18PM (#8690849)
    You can't have a technological solution to a social problem.
  • Re:How fast? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by 10101001 10101001 ( 732688 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @05:26PM (#8690910) Journal
    It certainly hasn't worked to oust Bush. But then I guess we're too civilized to overthrow him. Of course, we could tell our Representatives and Senators to impeach and eject him and the vice president for very apparently lying (George Bush for his motives over Iraq (which would be lying to the American people--something that the Republicans wanted to Impeach Bill Clinton over) and Dick Cheney's apparent conspiracy before and after related to Halenburten (sp?) (which would obviously make him worthy of questioning of a crime)). Do realize that impeach means to charge with a crime, not find guilty of a crime. I very well question the ethics of the Republican (and Democratic, though the currently don't have much of a voice in the Senate) parties for not at least doing a serious investigation. It's nice to know we can trust our representatives to think of the people first and their party second.
  • by kfg ( 145172 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @06:28PM (#8691323)
    Yes, that's what the pen is for. Instigation. By itself it does nothing. Sam Adams was able to pass out broadbills inciting the people to oppose the government, but on the back of some of those broadbills was an unobtrusive little bit of paper that said what amounted to, "Please start stockpiling guns and powder. Eat this after you've read it." The real history of the American Revolution is about how they went about such stockpiling. The Battle of Bunker Hill was only "lost" because they hadn't managed to stockpile enough powder.

    But you have to remember that the government has just as much access to whatever comminications technology exists. In a represive regime considerably more access. That even applies to the internet. The invention of telegraphy, telephony and radio allowed "the people" more ready access to communicating with other over broad geographic areas to form networks that otherwise would not have been possible, but it also allowed the government to better orginize itself. Soldiers and policeman have radios and know how to use them. The history of communications isn't the history of freedom, it's the history of dictatorship.

    What's more, all of these technologies allow the government greater ability to monitor and attack dissident groups. You can eat the paper. A whisper in a back alley doesn't even require that. Telephones can be taped. Radio can be freely intercepted. The internet can be monitored and traced.

    As an example from current events, people traded music freely before the internet, without fear and without reprisal. The internet didn't bring the free trade of music, it brought the most virulent repression of trading we've ever seen, right up to the law being modified to support that repression. In the country that traditionally stands as the model for freedom.

    The internet, in its way, actually incites and enables repression.

    If you wish to trade music freely you can still just do it the old fashioned way. It works. It's easy. It's invisible.

    The same goes for inciting revolution. It happens with whispers in back alleys, not using a technolgical medium. I've experienced this first hand as an American traveling behind the Iron Curtain. The black market took place right out in the open to Americans, invisible to the KGB.

    "Pssssssssttt, Hey. American. What do you want for those Levis you're wearing? You want to change some money? I'll give you 10% better than the government bank."

    And when it's time for the shooting to start the whisper is, "Hey, start stockpiling guns and powder."

    You'd have to be an idiot to do that over the internet. The black Ford Falcons would be there in a jiffy.

  • by benzapp ( 464105 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @07:12PM (#8691569)
    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.

    Are you so obscenely naive that you actually believe that? Sometimes I cannot believe the level of misinformation floating around on the internet. You know why the internet is worthless? The same reason democracy is worthless: the vast majority of people are incredibly stupid!

    Before a few thousand years ago, there WAS no civilization. Freedom was irrelevant. If you didn't want to be a part of your tribe, no one forced you! You would just leave. In such a situation, you might not be subject to the will of the tribe's chief, but you might meat a wild boar much more interested in eating you than telling you what to do.

    That was true all the time until the last two hundred years or so when the population of humans stretched to every habitable part of this planet. No one ever forced you to do anything. You always had the option of running away.

    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.

    Groupthink has never worked, just as it doesn't work with the internet. A leader has always been required, whether it was the tribe chieftan, a consul, an emperor, or one of the various "executives" of the twentieth century usually called presidents.

    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.

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

    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.

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

  • Re:Arabs are Asians (Score:2, Interesting)

    by kfg ( 145172 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @07:22PM (#8691623)
    Do you actually know this historic event?

    Yes. Do you play chess?

    While you are at it, get an atlas. The Arabs of Iraq are Asians. . .

    Yes. I know. In fact, I've made, and had to defend that very point, right here on Slashdot, when I've pointed out that every major European religion is of Asian origin, and thus European culture is essentially Asian culture, all natively European religions having effectively been extingished.

    Which, despite personally being an adherent of Asian religious thought, I think is a great cultural shame. Many European religious cultures were quite lovely compared to what replaced them.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 27, 2004 @07:58PM (#8691816)
    Companies do not "execute" people, but they do have them killed, or at least allow them to be killed. Here is but one example [colombiaso...ity.org.uk].
  • by Guppy06 ( 410832 ) on Saturday March 27, 2004 @08:43PM (#8692129)
    "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."

    Ah, but only after being convinced by them that it was what we truly wanted.

    Perfect example: McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform.

    What the politicians essentially said: "Money has too much undue influence in an election, especially close to election day. We want to political control away from moneyed interests and give it back to you."

    What they really meant: "People are too easily influenced by shady attack ads near election day. They are too stupid to be entrusted with something as important as democracy (i. e. "our continued employment"). We want to limit the information you see (whatever its true value) and take political control away from the unwashed and give it to ourselves."

    Of course you wouldn't be in office to begin with if you didn't know how to work a crowd.

    The biggest sign that those in political office in the US are primarily interested in their own position is the way impeachment is currently viewed. What happens if you get impeached? You're fired. Nothing else. BFD. Heck, it's such a non-penalty that our federal constitution makes sure to let Congress do it whenever they damned well please. You're not even barred from running for office again if the people so choose. But that sounds too much like regicide to the politicians (and, as they made sure, to everybody else) and so Congress instead makes vague complaints about "imperial presidents" and "activist judges" instead of doing their God damned job and taking individuals they're not happy with to task.

    (Sorry, I've been too distracted lately to write political rants and I needed a vent.)
  • by npsimons ( 32752 ) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @01:43AM (#8693860) Homepage Journal

    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.

    Hello Thomas Hobbes, paging Thomas Hobbes; someone is plagiarizing your ideas from "Leviathan". I mean, come on, just because a tyrant led a society doesn't mean that the individuals of that society owe him anything. If they owe anyone anything, it is the society itself, and the tyrant owes the society as well (how long do you think that tyrant would have lasted against that wild boar you mentioned?).

    And selfish? You want to talk selfish, take a look at ANY tyrant. All of them have been selfish. Tyrants don't build societies or create civilizations; PEOPLE build societies and create civilizations.

    I'll not deny that most, if not all, of us owe something to society and the human race in general. But just because some asshole went on a power trip doesn't justify him abusing his power. Leaders are NOT unique, contrary to popular belief, and they can be easily replaced. And furthermore, leaders aren't anything without people to lead.

  • by varjag ( 415848 ) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @04:07AM (#8711989)
    For example, e-mail was one of the things that kept the world informed about the attempted coup in Russia in 1996.

    It was Soviet Union and 1991.

    Email, however, didn't help much back in 1993, when the Yeltsin actually used military force to get done with the parliament.

Each new user of a new system uncovers a new class of bugs. -- Kernighan