I have been silent for a full month, working on a book proposal, trying to avoid distractions and tangents. Below is a preview, just the opening paragraphs of a much longer overview that I am still working on:
A new form of highly networked authoritarianism is emerging in China. Call it “Cybertarianism.” It’s not uniquely Chinese, but understanding how the Internet is mediating the relationship between state and society in China can help us understand what’s happening around the world.
Signs of cybertarianism can be found in many countries. A number of democracies have creeping “cybertarian” tendencies, too. This is not a doomsday book, however. There are plenty of things that people around the world can do in the Internet age to expand genuine free expression and accountable government. But first we need to wake up and recognize what’s happening. 21st Century authoritarianism is not your father’s or grandfather’s authoritarianism. It can’t be addressed or understood in the same way.
Compared to classic authoritarianism, cybertarianism permits – or shall we say bows to the Internet’s inevitable consequences and accepts – a great deal of give-and-take between government and citizens. Cybertarianism is much more deliberative and participatory than the authoritarianism of the last century. While one party or set of ruling elites remains in control, the Internet enables a broad range of public discourse on matters of common concern. The result is that the average person with Internet or mobile access has much greater sense of freedom – and even potential to influence government policies – than could ever have been possible in a pre-Internet authoritarian regime.
At the same time, in the cybertarian state as in the classic authoritarian state, there is no real protection of the individual’s right to freedom of expression. People still go to jail when the powers that be decide they are too much of a threat – and there’s nothing anybody can do about it. It's not possible to organize an opposition party. There are no genuinely democratic mechanisms for citizens to elect a representative government. The courts are not independent of the ruling party.
Which brings us to China as “exhibit A.” ...
... I will share more when the time is right. Meanwhile I have a couple more bits of media from the past couple months. Here is the video from an Open Society Institute panel, The Future of Freedom and Control in the Internet Age with Evgeny Morozov and Isabel Hilton:
..and here is my recent Radio Berkman interview with David Weinberger explores some of the ideas that will go into the book: