“Speaking today [August 14th, A.D. 2013] to officials at the US Embassy in Brasilia, Secretary of State John Kerry delivered comments about the ‘hardships’ facing US diplomacy, saying that a major problem was ‘this little thing called the Internet.’
“Referencing the Internet and ‘the ability of people everywhere to communicate instantaneously,’ Kerry lamented ‘it makes it much harder to govern, makes it much harder to organize people.’”
How could the internet make it “much harder to govern”?
Secretary of State Kerry didn’t say, but I believe the answer is found in the internet’s ability to expose lies. I.e., if a government spokesman tells a lie, almost certainly someone will expose that lie on the internet. If internet publication of the lie goes viral, the government spokesman will be exposed as a liar and the government will lose some of the public’s confidence and respect. As people lose confidence and respect in government, they are less likely to support and automatically obey government. Ergo, the internet does make it harder to get away with lies and therefore “much harder to govern”.
• Kerry also complained that the internet made it harder to “organize people”? Why? Again, I’d bet that the answer is that, historically, the government has “organized” the people by means of lies and deception.
For example, consider the two, A.D. 1964 “Tonkin Gulf incidents” wherein Vietnamese forces allegedly attacked at least one US destroyer. As a result of those alleged attacks, Congress passed the “Gulf of Tonkin Resolution” that empowered President Lyndon Johnson to assist any Southeast Asian country whose government was threatened by “communist aggression”. Thus, the “Tonkin Gulf incidents” laid the foundation for our entry into the Viet Nam war.
The problem is that at least one (maybe both) of the “Tonkin Gulf incidents” was probably a lie and never took place.
No matter. By means of a lie, the American people were “organized” to support America’s entry into the Viet Nam war.
Could government have exploited the Tonkin Gulf incidents if the internet had existed 50 years ago? Probably not.
• In A.D. 2001, the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon laid the foundation for going to war against Afghanistan and later Iraq and also passage of the “Patriot Act” that bedevils American freedoms even today. Many people believe that the 9/11 attacks were an “inside job” ultimately promoted by our own government rather than by Muslim “terrorists”. If they’re right, the 9/11 attacks were a “lie” used to “organize” the American people to support invasions of two middle-east countries and institution of an American police state.
The internet did exist in A.D. 2001 when the 9/11 attacks took place, but it was not yet as aggressive at exposing government lies or fallacies as it is today. If the A.D. 2001 internet was as aggressive then as it is today, would we have invaded Afghanistan and Iraq? Could the patriot Act have been enacted? Maybe not.
• Look at government’s more recent attempts to use the murders at the Sandy Hook Elementary School to “organize” the American people to support gun control. The lies advanced by government after the Sandy Hook shootings were exposed over the internet and government’s attempts to impose gun control were defeated.
I’ll bet government was badly stung by those defeats. If so, there’s a good case to be made that we owe our current right to keep and bear arms to the internet.
Without lies, it’s far more difficult to “organize” people to support the government’s various initiatives. Thanks to the internet, government can’t easily organize the American people and (as evidenced by Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden) can’t even organize its own employees.
• “Though Kerry didn’t single any incidents out specifically in the comments, it is hard to hear this from US officials and not immediately think about the Internet’s role in facilitating whistleblowers like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden.”
We call Manning and Snowden “whistleblowers,” but we might also call them “publishers” because that’s what they did—they published information on the internet.
The 1st Amendment’s guarantee of “Freedom of the Press” has always been somewhat illusory.
Yes, that Freedom was always present, but it cost money to build, buy and maintain a printing “press”. As a result, the “press” tended to report those stories that were most favorable to the interests of those able to afford to buy a printing “press”.
However, thanks to the internet, the 1st Amendment’s guarantee of “Freedom of the Press” has been made real for everyone. Thanks to inexpensive websites and free blogs, anyone who wants to operate a “press” is now free to do so. If you have information and you want to publish, you can.
One of the first to take advantage of our newfound Freedom of the Press was Matt Drudge—living in a small apartment and publishing news on a website on the internet. He caught wind of the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal, published that news and became famous. At least two other major news outlets already had that story but had refused to publish out of “courtesy” to President Clinton.
Result? President Clinton was impeached and very nearly run out of office. Even though Clinton ultimately retained the presidency, he was so debilitated by the Lewinsky scandal that his second term of office was largely wasted.
I guarantee that every politician in the country was mortified. One little man (Matt Drudge) and one little internet connection had damn near caused a President to be run out of office.
More recently, the Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden and Benghazi stories have only helped illustrate the incredible political power that’s been made available to every “little man” in this country. Thanks to the internet, every American is now a potential “Jack-the-Giant-Killer”—and our “giants” of choice are government employees and officers.
“Information control has been an obsession for the Obama Administration, which has been trying to crack down on leaks and move heavy-handedly to restrict access to classified information even after it has already gone public.
“The Internet has been a thorn in the administration’s side in that regard, with efforts to restrict access to WikiLeaks and other whistleblower sites inevitably doomed to failure and an informed public, and all the hardships it brings with it for the ruling class, here to stay.”
Secretary of State Kerry was right. The internet has made it “harder” for government to “govern”. By informing the public of the truth, the internet has dramatically reduced—perhaps almost ended—government’s ability to govern by means of lies.
If the government intends to continue to govern arbitrarily but without effective lies, then it may have only two remaining options:
1) Institute an overt fascism and tyranny where the government rules by violence and the people are forced to obey out of abject fear; or,
2) Regain the moral high ground where politicians and leaders are respected for telling the truth and followed based on people’s resulting respect.
• What do you think is more likely? More lies (that can’t work in the internet age)? More tyranny (which, like all other police states, can’t last for long)? Or a more moral government that leads by telling truth and earning the people’s respect?
I don’t expect the internet to compel government to take the moral high ground any time soon. Instead, I expect to see a limited period of overt fascism—which will probably collapse this country just as surely as Nazism destroyed Germany.
But, after we’ve finished embracing the self-destruction of fascism, I expect that the internet will still be available and the push for honest government and politicians may be inevitable.
The internet isn’t necessarily making it “harder to govern”—but it is making it harder to get away with lies.