Thursday, January 14, 2010

Audience Rules! Google Out of China

Google did it! Instead of mouthing more mealy rationalizations about engagement, Google pulls back now from the world's biggest market, in protest against the Chinese government's controls against the free flow of information. They had previously drunk the water of compromise, and now they take it back, realizing some basic collision with the company's own core values. If they aren't interested in the free flow of information, who is?

Before we debate that point, I myself now, inspired by Terry Gilliam's latest cinematic romp, must practice sleight of hand. While you are paying attention to the diversion of Google's seeming to do the right thing by you, I am going to conjur my own audience. Shazzam, and you are there.

Evangelicals do this all the time, tapping in to that proto-illness of most peoples' brains where powerful words, authoritatively spoken, excite some sort of belief-system focused on some leader at the pinnacle of some trued structure.

Schizophrenics do this to some clinically mad degree, rehearsing rosary patterns of words as if for dear life; sometimes even unsettling their interlocutors' certainties about what really counts as worthwhile. If they can even get an interlocutor, which is usually pretty unlikely. There is always madness in perfect trust in any human-generated scheme.

These edifices of trust - the churches, the schools, the corporations - are composed of the attention paid by earnest subscribers, in no position themselves, alone, to be certain of anything. Traditionally, the church in robes and gold and ceremony, could legitimize its stand in place of you and me.

Now, at one extreme, we have be-gowned and celebrated universities, whose rationalizations of the world around us must be trued by earnest peers whose own works are "published" and read by others whose readerships are also better than you or me. There is a highly elaborated system for legitimacy, which in these United States keeps our Big U. at the very top on the globe. If we don't blow it, we may yet remain, thereby, economically in power.

At some other extreme are ever-growing institutions legitimated only by the financial contributions of their adherents. To many of us, these evangelical businesslike edifices look for all the world like giant confidence games, supported only by some occult cadence, high production values to the show, and the tired jadedness of common man toward robes and institutional self-promotion.

Which is a really funny observation if you were to think about it.

Google and Microsoft and proto-universities like the Singularity Institute, gain their legitimacy by your purchase of their product, or by your being subject to their advertizing, or by your belief in guru representations beyond the reach of institutions for sanction. Pick your poison, someone's always trying to take advantage of your gullibility.

When you, the public, are asked questions for your answer en masse, the way they so stupidly do in California, the very act of voting makes you complicit in a massive crime against humanity. Complex and difficult matters must be distilled into some truism which will become a proxy litmus test to determine if you prefer the blue or the red pill.

Should education be worth more than incarceration? Should real-estate taxes be capped? Can we trust our elected leaders to represent us? The serpent eats its tale. (at least makes good sport of it, rabid fans) We must bind the hand which leads us.

No authority now is trusted; no structure can be made worthy of your belief. I'd like to be willing to die for my country "in an instant" like so many soldiers say that they are, but I really don't know what my country is. I really would like to know, once again, what it is beyond family and personal friends which has earned my full trust and loyalty.

In China, on its citizens' behalf, the government will violate the terms of service of its business partners - which is an extremely civil way to put what they are doing - conducting industrial espionage to expose its own citizens who would like some trued stories about the behavior of that self-same government to be aired in public. Very bad things will happen to these people.

Google's discovery leaves it in a position of no real choice. If it is not to be complicit in what are criminal acts on the face of them.

Other corporations, as I have written extensively elsewhere (don't you just love such vague references?), can lay back behind layers and layers of deniability and keep focus on whatever core business widgets or services they are pandering. We don't always know what might be done in our name, but we do know that we are only interested in bringing profitable wares to market.

But Google's in the business of information; trust in them depends utterly on their commitment to the freedom of information. Otherwise even rubes would understand we're entering the world of Orwell's 1984.

Chinese citizens understand that their fate is collective. Their lives are palpably better on a daily basis, thanks to their single party rule. Strong resolution at their top is never subverted by oversimplified questions asked of under-qualified deciders. While our red and blue resolve themselves into almost perfect opposition, guaranteeing, virtually, that there can be no direction other from the one which will be far too little, far too late. When true leadership is so urgently called for.

And just as we might not want to look too closely at what we are asking our young men and women to do in our name in Afghanistan or Iraq, the Chinese people are often just as adamant about what they don't want to know.

The only fact which really matters is whether the preacher is more interested in gold and glory than in God. Has self perpetuation trumped belief? Do leaders' actions defy their words? Must we hamstring them with direct propositions so that they may do their dirty deeds in trickier ways beneath our notice?

And so, dear audience of non-existent readers, I make this representation to you. There is no thing which I will write which you must take on any kind of faith. I will not make extravagant claims about the future, nor willingly make statements which cannot be substantiated against piles and piles of facts. I will not stray beyond the bounds of reason, nor fall prey to temptations for the rhythms of magical thinking, either as receiver or transmitter. You will know it when I lose my mind.

Most writers, I must imagine, would feel far too naked doing this kind of writing. Well, some have told me so. Where you have no good idea who it is you're writing to. Where you have no particular expertise which makes you the person to go to for good intel about the latest moves of this or that corporation, nor for interpretation of the latest happenings in the world around us. I have no editorial board to assure you that what I write will be this side of outlandish, nor in the vein of what you've paid for.

But, sorry to say, writing alone for just me in private fails to engender my own trust in me. Toward the one side, I might write as do those myriad bloggers now who rehearse for you daily observations about their personal lives, and seem to speak for your heart as well. You comment profusely, yeah yeah yeah, that's what I think too. Or you're a jerk.

Toward the other, there is nothing which I have so fully developed to say that I can work it out book length for your to judge in and by its completion.

I have inklings is all, of certainty, in the end, as it were, and trace the direction toward it here, each day out loud, as if a crazy person writing to myself. But the certainty I seek forms no kind of utterable nor embodiable truth; these are absurdities I just can't believe in.

I have no faith in that sort of perfection in words, nor artificially intelligent robots, nor transhuman decency beyond our belief here and now. I have no faith in even trued words' endurance in any perpetual sense, and the perpetual me falls short within a range I can be comfortable with myself.

That of which I am certain relates to you, dear audience. That there is no such thing as writing which can make sense to a single soul alone. *poof* You're there because you must be. And the power is all yours.

As in these supposedly United States, we must learn to liberate our leaders from the veto power of the least among us, whether small "frontier" states or illegitimate institutions. To do that, we must find a way to trust them. And that in turn must be liberated from the process for producing ad copy on what used to be called Madison Avenue.

This strikes me as almost inconceivably difficult to accomplish. You, dear audience, are so freaking willing to believe the most absurd things, based on some trust in the speaker engendered only on the basis that they make you feel good about yourself. You are falling down on your job. But I have faith in you.

OK, I've got an interview now, for painless suicide in public. Like everyone else, I must eventually agree to work for the Man (Not that one! You know, the one who runs the economy, stupid) or starve. I would represent the government of China, in their cultural outreach to America. Placing Chinese language teachers in our schools. Interpreting Chinese cultural history and values for your edification and enlightenment. Hopefully, leading you to fear and loathe them less, so that we may become partners, China and the U.S., in this better world abuilding.

Is my ambivalence palpable? Is there any way now that I can trust myself? My representations there in private, how will they match this public nakedness before you? Stay tuned! I might just have a legitimate job, or they might just remind me that I have yet to learn to fly a kite. I will do the right thing, of that I'm certain, whatever the hell it is. Or the deciders will do it for me.


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