Wednesday, October 9, 2019
I highly recommend this book(s) review, by John Lancaster, in the London Review of Books, called "Document Number Nine." Among other things, it discusses the striking developments in AI/machine learning and the ways that the PRC's dictatorship is using them for policing, surveillance, rewards, and punishment. Along the way, though, there was this, which reminded me of the crucial role that both the Catholic Social Tradition and the various instances of Tocqueville-inspired political theory have assigned to mediating institutions:
The point of the state apparatus is not to silence all debate, but to prevent organisation and co-ordination; the ultimate no-no is the formation of any kind of non-party group. The CCP’s goal is not silence but isolation: you can say things, but you can’t organise. That is why the party has cracked down with such ferocity on the apparently harmless organisation Falun Gong, whose emphasis on collective breathing exercises wouldn’t normally, you would think, represent much of a challenge to CCP control of China. But Falun Gong grew popular, too popular – seventy million by 1999, as many as the CCP itself – and had an unacceptable level of collective organisation. So the party set out to destroy it. Two thousand members of Falun Gong have died in custody since the crackdown began.
Given all this, it is frequently the case that outsiders are surprised by the apparent freedom of the Chinese internet. People do feel able to complain, especially about pollution and food scandals. As Strittmatter puts it, ‘a wide range of competing ideologies continues to circulate on the Chinese internet, despite the blows struck by the censors: Maoists, the New Left, patriots, fanatical nationalists, traditionalists, humanists, liberals, democrats, neoliberals, fans of the USA and various others are launching debates on forums.’ The ultimate goal of this apparatus is to make people internalise the controls, to develop limits to their curiosity and appetite for non-party information. Unfortunately, there is evidence that this approach works: Chinese internet users are measurably less likely to use technology designed to circumvent censorship and access overseas sources of information than they used to be.
For my own take (now quite a few years old), check out this article:
In several decisions handed down during its 1999 Term, the United States Supreme Court focused on the freedom of expressive association. Generally speaking, expressive association is regarded by courts and commentators as just another form of individual self-expression, and voluntary associations as facilitators for such self-expression.
In this Essay, Professor Garnett suggests that a shift in focus, from individual self-expression-through-association to the expression of voluntary associations themselves. It is suggested that, in several recent decisions including Dale, Mitchell, and California Democratic Party - the Court has indicated an appreciation of the role played by mediating institutions in shaping citizens, in transmitting values and loyalties - that is, in educating. In this role, associations are not only vehicles for the messages of individuals, but also speakers themselves. Associations are seen as more than conduits, but as crucial parts of the scaffolding of civil society. And the messages they express are valued not only to the extent they carry the voices of individuals, but also because they compete with the messages of government in the arena of education, broadly understood.