Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Twitter, Facebook & "Government 2.0"

David Rieff is the son of the late unlamented Susan Sontag. He is relatively level-headed about the direction that Egypt must go and the hazardous obstacle course Egypt must traverse before it reaches "democracy." He says that social justice must be attained before democracy, if I read him correctly, and this is almost frivolous---as social justice is never attained. But his put-down of the silliness of "The Revolution will be by Twitter" is a reason to give this article a look-see:
H. L. Mencken, please call your office! Were information technology not the Golden Calf of our age, no sensible person could possibly believe that that the North African revolution took place thanks to social media. As Evgeny Morozov points out in his fine new book, The Net Delusion, this is the same sort of utopian credulousness that led Marx to write that the communications revolution of the railways under the Raj would lead Indians to give up the caste system. This is not to say that social networks don’t matter; they matter a lot. But they do not incarnate freedom, do not bring about some final, heaven-like stage of human history. Indeed, if there was a proximate cause, on the order of Connors’ “10 folks in a small apartment using social networks,” to the Tunisian uprising, it was that least virtual of political acts—the decision of Mohamed Bouazizi, a street vendor in the central Tunisian city of Sidi Bouzid who burned himself to death in protest over the police seizing his cart and the produce he was trying to sell, and, more generally, over police brutality and grinding unemployment, poverty, and lack of opportunity. That was the action that provoked the first anti-government demonstrations in Tunisia and soon spawned other self-immolations from Egypt to Mauritania.

Nothing virtual about setting yourself on fire and burning to death. The chattering classes of the upper-middle-class Blackberry crowd can pat themselves on the back for being in the vanguard of history, but a delusion widely held doesn't become true by a majority vote.

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