Monday, June 14, 2010

Subtle Modern Tyranny at Work

The quest for freedom is worldwide. People have been tyrannized for too long and wish relief from such tyranny that freedom would provide. Governments wish to maintain their power and control over the common folk and continue striving to keep them down and obedient in any way possible. In some countries, particularly those of lesser means, governments brutalize their citizens without a qualm. There is a multitude of examples of this happening throughout history, but these governments continue such practices even in modern times. More "civilized" countries, such as those we in the Western world reside in, use far more subtle means to apply their tyranny. All governments seem to have an interest in keeping certain information from getting out to the populace.

Recently the Bangladeshi government decided to block facebook. They did so, according to reports, because of pressure from Islamic extremists. The extremists were a little perturbed that someone had posted a cartoon critical of the prophet Muhammad. So, rather than just accepting that not all people are going to view the world and religion as they do and that some might actually disrespect their beliefs, they decide to ask the government to force an entire social networking site to be shut down. Rather than just letting others have the freedom to believe what they want to believe, they look to the inherent violence of the state to try to force others to follow the same beliefs they have. That is not acting in a very neighborly or spiritual manner.

Now, I'm not a huge fan of facebook or twitter because of privacy concerns, but I do use them. Even though they collect far too much data on individuals, in my humble opinion, and they are likely either working with government to provide that information or will cave to government demands if pushed, the social networking sites are quite effective tools. They are a great way of keeping up with events both public and in the private lives of friends and family. I feel one should understand the nature of these sites and the dangers of using them, but I certainly think government should not shut them down. Individuals have the natural right to associate with who they want to associate with and governments should learn to stop violating this right.

The only reason I could see for a government shutting down such a site is because they want to keep certain information from being disseminated. Or perhaps they'd like to keep certain points of view from being expressed. In any case, they have to measure the benefits of shutting down such a site against the benefits of being able to monitor just about everyone's activities. The Bangladeshi government apparently felt it would gain more power and control by shutting down facebook than by letting people associate freely and express their own feelings.

But then, some may think, Bangladesh is only a small, third world country. Certainly nothing like that kind of censorship could happen in a more modern country, like those of the west. Yet Australia and the UK have already started to censor content their citizens are allowed to access, just like China. They have used excuses such as hate speech to censor or remove content that expresses political points of view, or points out governmental corruption, or in some other way challenges those who hold power. In the United States laws are being proposed that move in the same direction. The Constitution provides US citizens with the first amendment which is supposed to protect us against such abuses, but law abiding politicians seem few and far between these days. With the war on drugs, the war on terror, and just war in general, they love to use these excuses to violate the laws they have sworn an oath to uphold. After the passing of all the unconstitutional laws of the past decade, the bailouts, the recently passed health care bill, the power elite have proven that they'll more or less do anything they please and it wouldn't surprise me in the least if they pass laws allowing them to censor the web.

Ordinary folk are not stupid. They seek honest opinion and truthful reporting and they don't seem able to get it through more traditional outlets. They see things on television and read things in the newspapers that don't jibe with what they experience in real life. This likely isn't a recent phenomenon as there is an old saying about not believing everything you read in the papers, but there was a time when these news outlets were more trusted. Modern society has come to find the Internet and now many use it as a source for their information. Blogs and Youtube give one a much more honest and truthful view of what's happening in the world, in my humble opinion, many times without spin. That's likely a big reason why television news and print newspapers have lost so many of their customers.

Should the government decide to censor the Internet as we know it, people will not stop seeking the truth. The genie has been let out of the bottle. It is not going to be put back in. People will figure out other methods to disseminate honest and truthful information. They will still gather together and associate with who they please. Those who seek to deny alternative views and control thought with propaganda will not only meet with stiff opposition, they will soon enough have the light shone upon them and will likely lose their relevance and the trust of the populace they may have once enjoyed.

More disturbing still is the move many government entities have made toward criminalizing the video and audio recording of public officials while they carry out their public duties in a public setting. It seems that it is okay for government entities to record our movements and our possible violations of the law, but that is not reciprocal. They don't want their criminal activity recorded. They'd like their abuses to remain in the dark. They want anyone accusing them of abuse to have no evidence so that any account of the incident remains one's word against the word of an officer. I mean, we are told that if we have nothing to hide and we do nothing wrong, then we have nothing to worry about with all this surveillance. Shouldn't the same be true for them? As long as they are doing nothing wrong, they should have nothing to hide from us. These anti video laws should be vehemently opposed by anyone concerned with government accountability.

Better than that, the populace needs to continue to ignore such laws and work toward a more open society. We need to let the control freaks know that we demand they respect our individual rights and that we will ignore their supposed authority should they continue to violate those rights. We have the right to defend ourselves against those who abuse the power the populace entrusts them with. We can do so by providing honest, truthful accounts of events. We can do so by carrying and using video cameras to record encounters with public servants. These are principles that need not be compromised.

In the third world, corruption and tyranny are more out in the open. People are not safe in their homes from government thugs who will break down their door, arrest and even kill innocent people for nothing more than their political views. They will do so for believing in the wrong religion. Or even because someone with power just doesn't like you. They might even do so because you happen to belong to the wrong tribe, a tribe who is not in power or who cannot afford the weapons necessary to defend themselves. There are horrific acts of violence that take place in such areas. These acts are made possible not only because one group manages to get so much power over another, but because they believe they will not be held accountable for their actions. Perhaps things would be different if the poor in the third world could carry around video devices, capture such terror on video and get it out on the Internet for all to see.

This is why government "authorities" wish to see such practices criminalized. They'd like to get away with their abuses. They'd like to know they have the power to do whatever they want and there's nothing anyone can do about it. They aren't going to police themselves. It is up to us to police them. The more we continue to challenge the authorities, the more we continue to record, broadcast and speak out against the abuses we see carried out by those in power, the safer we will all be in the long run.

No comments: