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Information: How can a totalitarian state be an information society?

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Maybe it can’t:

Beijing’s clumsy social media campaigns against democracy in Hong Kong and Taiwan have failed but attempts to control local media are ramping up. …

[President] Xi believes that the Western values of a free press, free speech, and separation of powers contributed to the fall of the Soviet Union and that China must avoid them so as not to succumb to the same fate. But the Soviet Union fell just before the internet became today’s information superhighway. The decades to come will provide the largest and most dramatic test in history. Heather Zeiger, “Can a totalitarian state be an information society” at Mind Matters News

If the principle goal is to suppress information unpopular with Top People, won’t creativity necessarily dry up? The point that jumped out at me, assessing the many incidents that Zeiger recounts, is this: A totalitarian state can put out the eye of a journalist with impunity. But it can’t apparently match a 14-year-old brat at running a social media campaign.

China may be the biggest and most sophisticated experiment in history along those lines.

See also: Serious media in China have gone strangely silent With a compulsory new app, the government can potentially access journalists’ phones, both for surveillance and capturing data. Liu Hu sums up the scene in a few words: “Outside of China, journalists are fired for writing false reports… Inside China, they are fired for telling the truth.”

10 Replies to “Information: How can a totalitarian state be an information society?

  1. 1
    polistra says:

    This is backwards. An efficient tyranny MUST BE an information state. Can’t function without huge data networks.

    Earlier tyrannies used networks of human informers, who were expensive and unreliable. Now that we have iPhones constantly watching our surroundings, picking up our gestures and muscle tone and temperature and heartbeat, listening to our words and tracking our travels, tyranny is infinitely more efficient.

  2. 2
    jstanley01 says:

    Xi is playing a shell game by appealing to the Soviet Union. If you want to see what mainland China would have looked like without the con artist’s 20-foot Communist tape worm inhabiting the country’s digestive tract for the last 70 years, the examples are Taiwan and Hong Kong.

  3. 3
    Seversky says:

    Whatever lessons we might draw from the problems of governing ancient Greek city-states, we are now facing daunting and unprecedented challenges in managing the vast superpowers of today. President Xi may be correct in believing that, without an authoritarian central government, China would fragment into smaller regional states that would vie with each other for wealth and power much as the old Soviet Union disintegrated. We can see similar stresses in the US with near-hostility between city and country and even occasional talk in some states of secession. Even in a smaller state like the UK, Brexit is increasing talk of Scottish and Welsh independence. A lot of people are downright suspicious of what are perceived as distant, uncaring and unresponsive central authorities, which makes the prospect of some kind of world government even more remote, even if that is what may be necessary ultimately.

  4. 4
    jstanley01 says:

    Seversky @3
    For the population of mainland China to become as pliant to Communist rule as it is at present, the slaughter of some tens of millions of the Chinese people under Mao Zedong from 1958 to 1962 was “necessary.” That you think the Communist Chinese model demonstrates that a world government may prove to be “necessary ultimately” — to borrow from Dawkins — shows you to be either ignorant, stupid, or insane and possibly evil.

    Mao’s Great Leap Forward ‘killed 45 million in four years

  5. 5
    pw says:

    “ If the principle goal is to suppress information unpopular with Top People, won’t creativity necessarily dry up?“

    Did you mean “principal” as “main”?

  6. 6
    Fasteddious says:

    Perhaps the best reason NOT to have a world government is that a world having many nation states is an ongoing experiment in politics and different ways to govern. Some, like the USSR fail, others, like most Muslim nations seem to fail for different reasons. Some, like monarchies can go on for a long time as long as the monarch is beneficent. Democracies seem to survive if they can avoid bureaucratic gridlock. Other dictatorships seem to work for awhile but eventually go off the rails. Any one-world government would put an end to these experiments, and given the socialist tendencies of much of the world, not to mention the entire UN, the result of the one-world approach would probably not end well. The imagined utopia of a beneficent one-world government is a pipe dream, along the same lines as Marx-Lenin-Mao, et al.

  7. 7
    Seversky says:

    Jstanley01 @ 4

    For the population of mainland China to become as pliant to Communist rule as it is at present, the slaughter of some tens of millions of the Chinese people under Mao Zedong from 1958 to 1962 was “necessary.” That you think the Communist Chinese model demonstrates that a world government may prove to be “necessary ultimately” — to borrow from Dawkins — shows you to be either ignorant, stupid, or insane and possibly evil.

    I’m not defending the repression practiced by the current Chinese government nor do I think that some sort of world government is the best solution while humanity is as it is. A world government would presumably still be formed from human beings and those human beings would be just as prone to being corrupted by wealth and power as they are today.

    I am reminded of a science-fiction novel by C M Kornbluth called The Space Merchants. It is partially a satire on American society. Set in the near-future, it envisages a world which is run by giant, enormously wealthy and powerful advertising agencies. They have the means to manipulate public opinion in any direction they choose and control puppet governments which provide a veneer of democratic legitimacy for what is essentially a corrupt oligarchy, not so different from what we see in Russia today.

    The problem is that without some sort of strong central authority, governance will inevitably fall into the hands of a small number of billionaires and multinational corporations who have the wealth and therefore the power to bend societies to their wills. And their interests are not necessarily our interests, nor will they regard themselves as being obliged to consider our interests.

  8. 8
    BobRyan says:

    Seversky @ 7
    “The problem is that without some sort of strong central authority, governance will inevitably fall into the hands of a small number of billionaires and multinational corporations who have the wealth and therefore the power to bend societies to their wills. And their interests are not necessarily our interests, nor will they regard themselves as being obliged to consider our interests.”

    Are the interests of Xi, who was recently given the same status as Mao had, the interests of the Chinese people? Without democratic governments in place, totalitarianism exists every time. Democratic nations are answerable to their people. There is a reason no democratic nation has ever gone to war against another democratic nation in all of recorded history.

    Name one government that has removed democracy and the people have found themselves better off? There is not one time that it has ever happened. If democracies do not go to war against other democracies, and the people are always better off having democratic institutions in place, then does it not mean all nations should be pushed towards democratic governments?

  9. 9
    EugeneS says:

    I think it is time Americans asked themselves the same question. No offence meant of course, just thinking out loud.

  10. 10
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Seversky

    Set in the near-future, it envisages a world which is run by giant, enormously wealthy and powerful advertising agencies. They have the means to manipulate public opinion in any direction they choose and control puppet governments which provide a veneer of democratic legitimacy for what is essentially a corrupt oligarchy, not so different from what we see in Russia today.

    There are several powerful forces in the world that try to manipulate people. Advertising agencies, certainly do this. But they have a problem with their own competitors. Geico wants the public to buy their insurance and Liberty Mutual wants to sell theirs. So, they can’t really manipulate people any way they want. If the corporation was a monopoly, there would be little need for advertising, except to assure people that they need to keep buying the product.
    For some reason, people are very weak when it comes to advertising. They surrender their own power of judgement. But they could just oppose and resist the manipulation and either buy another product or not buy at all.
    What is far more powerful than corporate advertising, however, is academia and also the news media itself. Academia sells people “a future”. Students are then indoctrinated — severely manipulated by the power of professors and an academic elite that maintains control on hiring and standards. Corporations are actually manipulated by the academics, believing that the only qualified candidates must be certified by the academic facilities. This operates as a semi-monopolistic function. Certainly, hours spent in a biased academic environment has far more power to manipulate than a few minutes of advertising does. Even the publication of academic textbooks plays a role as certain features of history, for example, are silenced and omitted. Students are cut off from the truth about things, and therefore manipulated and shaped to fulfill the will of the social-planners.
    The news media is similar. News is filtered and when there is no alternative voice, the public is manipulated by a one-sided approach.
    Corporations do have their power because of financial influence on governments, but corporations are also subject to the whims of the public, and as above, they face competition. A large corporation like Sears and Roebuck can end up virtually bankrupt. Corporations can come and go but governments generally persist (not entirely since secessionism, revolution, invasion and collapse are always possible also).

    The problem is that without some sort of strong central authority, governance will inevitably fall into the hands of a small number of billionaires and multinational corporations who have the wealth and therefore the power to bend societies to their wills. And their interests are not necessarily our interests, nor will they regard themselves as being obliged to consider our interests.

    Corporations have to sell something to people, so they have some interest in the people – at least to keep selling them something.
    A global government has an appeal for people because it simplifies things and makes some matters much easier. Collaboration is a benefit in the sharing of products and services.
    But all of that comes at a huge cost of loss of identity and individualism.
    There’s already a global culture (McDonalds and Starbucks are found everywhere) that has damaged local cultures. People lament this but they still get their fast-food and products from Walmart..

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