Digital Maoism in America

China and the Untied States are moving towards a similar point, converging through different methods and from different starting points. China was poor and never had an open system. China is becoming wealthy and sometimes there are cracks of openness, but then central control takes over. China is becoming a rich country without political freedom and history is full of these examples.

The United States was a rich and free country in the past, but now it is becoming a poor and closed country. Universities are indoctrination centers, media are propaganda outlets, Big Tech companies remove dissident content in a manner too consistent with George Orwell's 1984.

China is supplementing and upgrading its existing system with technology. America is using technological change to implement political change in an authoritarian direction. The two regimes are headed in the same direction.

NY Mag: ‘One Has This Feeling of Having Contributed to Something That’s Gone Very Wrong’ (H/T Digital Maoism)
global system in which they’re supposed to work together toward some sort of dominating megabrain that’s the one truth didn’t seem to bring out the best in people, that people turned aggressive and mean-spirited when they interacted in that context. I had worked on some content for Britannica years and years ago, and I never experienced the kind of just petty meanness that’s just commonplace in everything about the internet. Among many other places, on Wikipedia.

On the one hand, you have this very open collective process actually in the service of this very domineering global brain, destroyer of local interpretation, destroyer of individual voice process. And then you also have this thing that seems to bring out this meanness in people, where people get into this kind of mob mentality and they become unkind to each other. And those two things have happened all over the internet; they’re both very present in Facebook, everywhere. And it’s a bit of a subtle debate, and it takes a while to work through it with somebody who doesn’t see what I’m talking about. That was what I was talking about.

But then there’s this other thing about the centralization of economic power. What happened with Maoists and with communists in general, and neo-Marxists and all kinds of similar movements, is that on the surface, you say everybody shares, everybody’s equal, we’re not gonna have this capitalist concentration. But then there’s some other entity that might not look like traditional capitalism, but is effectively some kind of robber baron that actually owns everything, some kind of Communist Party actually controls everything, and you have just a very small number of individuals who become hyperempowered and everybody else loses power.

And exactly the same thing has happened with the supposed openness of the internet, where you say, “Isn’t it wonderful, with Facebook and Twitter anybody can express themselves. Everybody’s an equal, everybody’s empowered.” But in fact, we’re in a period of time of extreme concentration of wealth and power, and it’s precisely around those who run the biggest computers. So the truth and the effect is just the opposite of what the rhetoric is and the immediate experience.

A lot of people were furious with me over Digital Maoism and felt that I had betrayed our cause or something, and I lost some friends over it. And some of it was actually hard. But I fail to see how it was anything but accurate. I don’t wanna brag, but I think I was just right. I think that that’s what was going on and that’s what’s happening in China. But what’s worse is that it’s happening elsewhere.

The thing is, I’m not sure that what’s going on in the U.S. is that distinct from what’s going on in China. I think there are some differences, but they’re in degree; they’re not stark. The Chinese are saying if you have a low social rating you can’t get on the subway, but on the other hand, we’re doing algorithmic profiling that’s sending people to jail, and we know that the algorithms are racist. Are we really that much better?
I can't get worked up about Chinese abuses when the U.S. government, major corporations, universities and media are moving the nation is the same direction as China. If anything, I prefer China because as a foreigner I do not have a personal interest in their politics. Moreover, Chinese censorship tends towards the narrow, whereas American censorship is broad. China has digital mobs, but most censorship is state managed. Mobs are only allowed to run wild when there's a state political goal (such as anti-Japan). From my experience, you have to try to get an account banned or a post censored in China (except when they suddenly make a word verboten for a time, then you might see a post randomly disappear).

In America, the mobs get state and corporate support. Polling shows a large portion of Millennials oppose the first amendment. They aren't a "wumao dang," but they serve the same purpose. Even many libertarians will defend YouTube's right to kick people off its platform for whatever violation (how much is corporate controlled and mob abuse of reporting systems is unknown), despite the social and political impact being the same as in China. Moreover, posts and accounts are banned with seeming randomness. Sometimes censorship is driven by advertisers, but it also tends to be political. If you have right-leaning opinions, you are much more likely to run afoul of the censorship algorithms.

Expansive free speech in America was always more a cultural than a legal right. Political speech was protected, but there were blasphemy laws and pornography was banned. America isn't going back to a time of freewheeling political speech and limits on blasphemy and pornography, it is moving to a world where political speech is limited and pornography is unlimited. It is moving in a direction very similar to China, where important topics cannot be discussed, but the public is free to distract themselves with unimportant topics as much as possible. The technology China will use to exert totalitarian control, social credit and next the public blockchain, are also being built in the West. China is more explicit in its censorship, it is top down. American censorship is bottom up, veiled behind property rights if a private entity or egalitarianism if public. Mao removed enemies of the regime, and those proclaiming diversity and inclusion also remove enemies of the regime.

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