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The Internet: Powerful, Yet Fragile

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Last week ABC News--obviously not clear on the concept--promoted the idea that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made the internet the center of U.S. foreign policy! I hope the ABC News watching public understands that "the center" and "a centerpiece" are very different concepts. But make no mistake about this, Washington believes that the internet is crucial to modern American jingoism--the promotion of American values and our form of government (corrupt and otherwise ... certainly not the model of representative democracy that the Framers had in mind ... certainly the form that best suits a nation reduced to selling guns and peon-izing its citizens) across the breadth and length of this planet.

There is more than just a cynical thread of truth in this notion of the importance of the internet, but Washington in its hubris misses the point that the internet, whatever its sources of funding, is essentially two things: it is democratic to a fair-thee-well, and it is fragile.

I shudder when my computer crashes and I imagine millions of computers "crashed" because government has gotten control of the hubs and nodes and closes us down. Absolutist Control is a work in progress in China, of course, and that is the putative model for this notion that ABC has misunderstood. When the internet goes down for political reasons, there is no substitute for what we have evolved over these last twenty years. Commerce will plummet, in fact, there will be a depression, panic, and political upheaval. The internet is extremely important, but there is one thing that it is not.

The democracy of the internet is not a form of government. It is the democracy of three billion voices and ears and eyes. The internet is what we make of it, and sex is what we have made of it. This may speak more to the weird notions we have about the sexual nature of our species, but it is what happened. Sex and political propaganda, then commerce. The American ideal, if you are to read ABC News straightforwardly, is that people have the god-given right to access (and even contribute to) the array of sexual content, the political propaganda, and especially to buy stuff. ABC believes (and maybe Hillary does too) that the motives energizing the internet are "manageable" in the same way that television audiences are "managed" into bogus "reality shows" and news media that express corporate interests. ABC and Hillary may be right, for the facts are that the vast majority of people do not stop to question authority, assertions, or much less the psychology of presentation on TV. Why would they on the Internet?

We come to the conclusion that the "centerpiece" of American outreach to the rest of the world is for the rest of the world to emulate the American way of being docile and managed citizens. The hubris of this idea is astounding, and the possibility that it is accurate utterly horrifying.


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James R. Brett, Ph.D. taught Russian History before (and during) a long stint as an academic administrator in faculty research administration. His academic interests are the modern period of Russian History since Peter the Great, Chinese (more...)

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