Amongst Americans, internet freedom, is considered a basic human right. The ability to access any information that is desired, to publish any free thoughts on any topic, and to freely criticize the authorities that govern are all written into a law which protects these freedoms. It’s been instilled in everyone in our generation since the first stages of our education: freedom of speech. But is the freedom of speech, especially via the internet, truly a basic human right or is it merely a luxury right, which Americans have become accustomed to so much that it is perceived in the same light as shelter, water, health, and nourishment? Americans often express this desensitization to other scenarios by exclaiming that all countries policies should promote freedom in all aspects and citizens of those countries should expect no less than the same freedom grated to citizens in the United States. The United States’ active encouragement of the rapid progression of freedoms in China, especially internet freedom, may be misguided, not allowing China to reach the steps necessary for the developmental path to achieve the level of freedom comparable with the United States.
The reason that citizens of the United States are able to enjoy the freedom of speech which they are guaranteed by law today is the stability of the social and government institutions within the country. The stabilization of the government structure allowed citizens of the United States to trust that their government could survive and therefore be able to protect its citizens, leading to the stabilization of the social institutions, which then allowed for the cascade effect of the evolution of rights. The government structure of the United States has had structure since its creation in 1776, which allowed for the normal development leading to the creation of a code of basic rights accepted into law, and eventually to the current system of freedoms enjoyed in the US. From a more modern perspective, to a certain extent, the United States has enjoyed government stability since the end of the civil war in the 1860s, with little to no major governmental changes happening since then. In this time, there have been major advances in the civil right of citizens, from the ending of slavery to the equal rights among men and women to the equal rights among race, with only recently (past 40 years) having achieved equal basic human rights for all citizens. These advances in human rights came by a strong social approval across the nation and a banding together of people to enact change in the government, social disorder was used as a tool to create change in the laws governing the society. This change, however, was only possible because of the strong structure of the government and the stability it held, allowing for large swings of social disapproval and disorder without the destruction of the country’s government structure.
China lacks the social order and strong government structure needed for the accelerated development of the human rights. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) did not come into existence in its present form until the end of the 1950’s with the ending of the Chinese Civil War. When it did assume power, the PRC inherited the poor governmental, social, and judicial institutions from the pre-civil war governance. Even today, China is still tackling the attainment of the basic human rights for the majority of its citizens and the creation of a stable governmental structure. Therefore the main goal of the PRC is to create and maintain social order and to build the government structure.
Recently the NY Times published an article about the proposed adoption of a registration requirement which would require users to register their real names, identification numbers, and information to access and comment on new sites. When asked to comment, officials and state-connected academics in the information security field, argued that mandatory controls are necessary to help subdue inflammatory attacks, misinformation and other illegal activity deemed to endanger social order. In another NY Times article, officials were asked to comment on the increase in proposed internet censorship and monitoring during 2009, a year which commemorates numerous anniversaries marking advancements and socially revolutionary events. Reporters indicated that China had established a high level committee completely devoted to the maintaining of social stability. Government censors have blocked over a thousand websites, closed liberal forums and blogs for, blocked access to YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, and cut off Internet service in locations with serious social instability, notably in the Xinjiang region of the west after deadly clashes between different ethnic groups, Chinese officials have defended that internet shutdowns were based on the grounds of national security. The trend here is evident. Although considered wrongful according to the western bias, one way of maintaining social order is internet and information censorship. By eliminating sources which criticize the government, invoke social unrest and riot, and promote rebellion, the PRC government is trying to strengthen the internal social order which is necessary to progress to its steady stabilization. To put it into plainer words, China is trying to get everyone on the same page, so that they can move on to the next step. This may seem like backwards primitive thinking from an American biased perspective, but people must understand that the government responsibility is to provide protection for its citizens and in China’s case, that protection may come at the price of some of the freedoms of the citizens.
Once this social stability is steady, it allows for the creation of a better government, then for the stability of that government, thereby finally allowing for the social disapproval necessary to enact change in that government. But if that social stability is never achieved, the cascade of processes leading to change cannot start. Plain and simple, despite the repression of the freedoms of the public, China may be doing what is best for their country for the long run. Repressed freedom, and thus internet censorship may be the “evil means” to the beneficial end of the furthering of freedoms in China.
One thought on “The Devil’s Advocate – by “Reynolds H””
This is an interesting way of looking at the censorship issues in China. The one thing that is worrying is whether China’s motives behind the censorship are, as you say, to better the government and then allow for social disapproval, or if it is simply being done to further the authoritarian state that exists in China.