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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Technocracy Isn't Policy

The celebration of the Arab Spring is built on faith in the redemptive ability of enhanced communications technologies to create a transparent global culture. To the true believers on the New York Times editorial page, it is axiomatic that cultural revolutions driven by communications technologies will be liberal. That anything which breaks down barriers must be liberal.

Technocracy as foreign policy has become the standard reaction to turmoil and instability in the Muslim world. Whether it's Hillary Clinton talking about the need to have relationships with the populations of entire countries or Thomas Friedman sketching out yet another vision of a New Middle East, the misplaced enthusiasm is everywhere. At the heart of it all is the idea that social media is leading to the dawn of a new age.

This Twitter-centric narrative assumes that social media is ushering in a new age of progressive people power. But that's hardly the case.

The successful revolutions of the Arab Spring have brought down secular governments and are in the process of replacing them with Islamist or military dictatorships. And a prime mover behind them is Al-Jazeera, a global news channel run out of the territory of an absolute monarchy. The Twitter activists have already been left behind. The power remains in the hands of those who had it all along. Whether it's the Egyptian military which forced Mubarak to resign or the defectors from the Libyan government who have achieved international recognition, power is built on power. Not on Twitter.

Even Wikileaks, which seemed to usher in a new informational world order, had its scoops distributed through the dead tree vector of 150 year old newspapers. Newspapers which took the material and turned on its distributor anyway. The world did not change dramatically for it. Diplomatic cables had been leaked before, just not on this scale. But unlike the Zimmerman Telegram, nothing in Wikileaks started a war. Which means that a single leaked diplomatic cable from 1917 was more devastating than all of Wikileaks.

The acceleration of information distribution and the expanded social organizing toolset of the internet are not elementally liberalizing. Rather they are empowering. And like all tools, they empower those who use them effectively and aggressively.

The United States is hobbled competitively in the fight by its own faith in technocracy. When Hillary Clinton wonders why America doesn't have anything as effective Al-Jazeera, the answer is simple. It's because Al-Jazeera pursues a clear and definite agenda. The United States has no agenda anymore except to win friends and influence people. And that's not an agenda, it's a strategy. But to the technocrats gaining influence is an end in and of itself. And they can't gain that influence when they don't know what they want to do with it.

The Obama administration is more clueless when it comes to national interests than any previous administration. Which is why it's incapable of influencing anyone. While Russia and China know what they want and set out to get it-- American diplomats turn into philosophers of futurism lecturing on the wonderful new transparent world, as if that were their objective. And indeed it is. But that isn't a national objective, it's a philosophical preference.

Liberalism has supplanted the national interest and American diplomats still think that the same technologies which disrupted the national consensus on values will do the same thing worldwide. And they are as right as they are wrong. Because it isn't the communications tools themselves that did it, but their monopolization in the hands of a liberal elite. But outside the United States and Europe, there is no liberal elite to monopolize communications. Instead the monopoly rests in the hands of totalitarian governments and fanatical ideologies who are just as keen to force their way of life on the rest of the world.

Social media and global communication are more effective in the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Emir of Qatar or Vladimir Putin than in the hands of the reformers. This flies in the face of social media as social liberation, but it's the truth. Tools are agnostic. And the disruptive elements of the internet and associated mobile technologies do not mean that they are perfect weapons of liberalization. Only that they are perfect weapons.

It is just as easy to distribute a lie, as the truth. Any social grouping is limited by its own biases. And a dictatorship may as easily employ social media to crush dissenters, so long as it has plenty of loyal followers. Technologically is a tool, not a destiny.

The technocracy of Western foreign policy experts neatly blinds them to reality. That is why the fake blog, A Gay Girl in Damascus, was so effective at playing into the false linkage between technology and revolution, between political instability and reform, that dominates their view of the world. A dominance that is entrenched by their misreading of their own recent history as being progressive, rather than a revived feudalism under a socialist red flag.

Progressive liberalization as the political destiny of states confronted with modern technology is an idea that should have died a decade ago during the first techno-adrenaline rush of the internet, when it was clear that this was simply not happening. Since then the global village has filled up with dictatorships ruling over populations that have internet cafes and 3G phones. But the Arab Spring has played too neatly into the globalist package sold by the experts. It finally delivers what they were promising all along, liberalization through globalization, the metal and silicon hand of technology coming down on the liberal side of history.

Global Communication is indeed changing the world, but not necessarily for the better. Or the freer. It is easier than ever to be heard, but harder than ever to be listened to. Accessibility is still bounded by gatekeepers. And as Wikileaks demonstrated, the identity of the gatekeepers hasn't changed all that much. It's easy to put a message out there, but the sheer volume of messages reduces communications to a garble of noise. Web 2.0 used social media to filter and index the messages, turning everyone into a participant in the cultural wars.

The Brave New Digital World is just as welcoming of Islamists as of rationalists. The vast amounts of information are not a barrier to medieval fanatics, instead the information becomes an ocean from which everyone may draw whatever information suits them and use it to populate their own ecosystem of ideas. Each faction carries on its cultural war for dominance in a world that has no more boundaries and against a West that no longer believes in anything except being fairminded.

Where Islamists use technology as a means to bring about their preferred social and political order, the Western liberals who are the most enthusiastic believers in transparency through technocracy want it to bring about some form of global consensus. Which it will, just not one that allows them to keep their heads.

The defect is not in their intelligence, but in their analysis of history as a force sweeping their way. That messianic view has characterized the left all along and given it a sense of destiny. But the analysis was always a bad one. The historical analysis depended on a cycle of revolutions liberating new groups of oppressed peoples to eventually create an absolute equality. But revolutions are just as likely to lead to tyranny as to freedom. A principle that the left's own revolutions have shown to be true.

Western liberalization was driven less by population revolution and more by economic prosperity. But in countries where prosperity is limited to those at the top, revolutions revert to the feudal, Communists and radical socialists become a new feudal nobility. Or in the Middle East, Islamists. Technology cannot lead to universal participation in nations without universal literacy. And even universal participation does not overcome the disparity of power. Nothing truly does.

The romance of the technocracy reassures liberals of the inevitable historical destiny of their cause. Which is why they ignore all contradictory trends. Their willingness to see global culture as a destiny and a destination, rather than a battlefield, sustains the myth and makes the defeat of human rights around the world seem like a victory. Even the cultural expansionism of the Muslim Brotherhood is seen as a positive thing if it leads to a global culture.

In championing technocracy over national interest, they have become just as agenda agnostic as the technologies that make the global cultural battlefield possible. By embracing a post-American world, they have opened the door to a global cultural war, rather than the global cultural order that they have envisioned.


  1. Yes , you said it right.

    We have lost so much in the way of leadership.
    Its extremely sad.

  2. Irwin Ruff22/6/11

    "The United States has no agenda anymore except to win friends and influence people."
    This doesn't fit with what I've been seeing. Obama seems more interested in kicking friends of the US in the face, while pandering to all its enemies. I don't know what Obama's real religious views are, but in practice he seems to favor advancing the radical Islamists.

  3. James22/6/11


    Al Jazeera is not a tool of the Qatar royal family. It's popular because it is free, and not controlled by any government. They have the cream of the worlds journalists, and freedom of speech.

    They are pro Islamic, but that is all you can say they are. Nor do they lie. In fact it's their quality and truth which makes Al Jazeera popular. It's said to be the world's leading channel now, more so than the BBC even.

    Also, you said tell a lie and it can be believed. I disagree too. Al Jazeera doesn't tell lies. Propoganda yes, but not lies. The lies in the US media is what makes Americans turn to other media like Europe. Heck, even Al Jazeera is now popular in the US.

    If you're saying Goebbels style propoganda will work in this internet and global age, well you're wrong. It won't.

    And that is why we're losing the war and media battle in the US.

  4. Al-Jazeera is anything but free and their propagandists are third rate BBC imitations. Often harvested from the BBC.

    Propaganda certainly works. Witness the election of an incompetent to the highest office in the United States.

  5. Anonymous22/6/11

    Al Jazeera is a beacon of Truth? I suppose if every third sentence you speak is Praise Allah.
    US media is certainly wishing they could be as effective with their deceptions as AJ is with theirs. Its just a lot of freedom loving folks aren't drinking the Kool-Aid.

  6. There is a similar side effect from technology to the one you describe here.

    Twitter has allowed flash mobs to perform wonderful and exciting street performances. From singing opera in a store, to choreographed dances on a beach.

    But, we are now seeing a side effect. Twitter is being used by gangs of youths to descend on a store like locusts and clean them out -- all within a few minutes.

  7. Anonymous22/6/11

    While some contend that the medium is the message, others contend that the message is the message. Our message is Family Guy and American Dad. Some message.

  8. Irwin--I couldn't agree more.

    James--Al Jazeera is just one of a growing Islamic franchises of the BBC.

  9. James23/6/11


    I think you misunderstood what I said. Media organisations that have ranked Al Jazeera have contempt for the average Arab or Islamic channel which is state propoganda. Al Jazeera does none of that, in fact the dictators and Islamofacists hate it because it has exposed scoops about them too. Al Qaeda call it, a Mossad set up.

    Al Jazeera has been independently ranked as being accurate. If you have anything to show otherwise, I look forward to seeing it. Please post some links of lies they told.

    FAIR has ranked it as accurate. If anyone has links that prove otherwise, please post them.

    It wasn't propoganda that won Obama the presidency, it's the left turn Americans are taking. By saying what you did, you indirectly say Americans are stupid, as they cannot distinguish between propoganda and truth.

    Are you saying the truth is so repugnant that only propoganda can save it?

    Why is demand for Al Jazeera growing in the USA, when it was banned under Bush? Did you know it's biggest audience on the web is from the USA.

    Kelia Ata

    BBC is seeing Al Jazeera as it's only competition. They're not together, or in bed, they are rivals. The BBC has had to up it's channels in the Muslim world because of the Al Jazeera threat.

    Al Jazeera is popular the world over, because of it's accuracy. American channels like Fox, CNN and others are declining in popularity because of their poor quality propogonda.

    I myself used to be prejudiced against Al Jazeera until I started to watch it. I'd advise you do the same before judging. It's the only channel in the Arab or Moslem world that is not afraid to tell the truth about what is going on there.

    Most Arab dictators hate Al Jazeera, and have tried to ban it.

  10. Funny. Muslims can call themselves western names, but it doesn't make them that :)

    Not one to nitpick, but maybe we can have this shameless advertisement for a totalitarian propaganda outlet removed from the comments?

  11. On second thought, considering all of the other comments perhaps AJ isn't a franchise of the BBC. Still, AJ will soon be creating its own franchises in western countries.

    Sorry, but I do see that down the line.

  12. Al Jazeera is state propaganda, it's just more subtle and aimed at a global audience. The dictators it takes down, it does as part of that agenda.

    The Western acceptance of Al Jazeera has a lot to do with Gulf money and more to do with hoping that Al-Jazeera will serve as a means of enlightening the Muslim world, the way they imagine their own news networks do.

    Of course propaganda works. So does an empty brand. Does that mean Americans are stupid? Many of those who voted for Obama are.

    Why is demand growing in the US? There's a growing Muslim population, a hard left that thinks CNN is right wing and a contingent who prefer anti-American outlets like Al-Jazeera and Russia Today, because they're not controlled by the Bilderberg Zionist Reptilian conspiracy.

  13. James23/6/11

    Hermit Lion,

    I'm not Moslem, but I certainly advocate the channel.

    you feel threatened? You just admitted they are what I said they are then. I advocate Al Jazeera for all the reasons I said above. You on the other hand have no counter argument except to ban it. That says it all.

    Watch the channel. If all you can do is call for censorship then it explains why they're at the forefront. They don't censor.


    This last paragraph you wrote about the changing demagogues, is what I meant. If this is the viewer and it's market is Al Jazeera, then what is your solution?

    To better Al Jazeera, you have to beat them at their own game. Tellings lies is not it. They have the cream of the worlds talent. They don't need to do that if it's all lies. They can hire any ignorant buffoon for that.

  14. James23/6/11


    Al Jazeeera already has worldwide franchises, including in the Western cities. It's a mainstream channel in Europe, and Russia as well as the Middle East. Turkey and Pakistan too, as well as Far East.

    How about you and Sultan and Hermit Lion, watch it for a week. Then after a week come back here, and tell me what you think.

    You'll be surprised. I promise you. Nobody exposes the inside story like they do.

    Is it a date in a weeks time?

  15. Actually KA is quite right about the BBC origins of Al Jazeera. And it's hardly mainstream outside the Muslim world and it's not universally accepted there either.

    It's basically a propaganda outlet for a particular point of view. You can say the same thing about CNN and plenty of other news networks. But Al Jazeera is a good deal further to the side of enemy. Arguably it is the enemy.

    There's no argument to be made here. Al Jazeera is what it is. It's part of the rise of global news channels as propaganda outlets for totalitarian regimes.

    There are people who turn to Al Jazeera or Russia Today for news. But that's not all that new either. Plenty of British households tuned in to Nazi propaganda broadcasts during WW2.

  16. Ahmed (Or James, Shimson, Fluffybuns... whatever),

    I am not interested in what you have to say, so don't expect me to waste my valuable time reading it.

    Have a very nice day ;)

  17. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VARFH36coHQ
    Uploaded by AlJazeeraEnglish on Jun 7, 2010
    Three decades after a peace treaty was signed between Egypt and Israel, Egypt's supreme court has upheld a ruling that strips Egyptian men married to Jewish Israeli women of their Egyptian citizenship. On this episode of Inside Story, we ask if relations between the two countries will ever truly be normalised.
    Here's a test you can perform. Try contacting AJ to explain to them the error they have made in their understanding of the web pages that explain how Israel confers citizenship. I'm still waiting for their response; maybe yours will come sooner! The AJ headline is meant to apply to non-Jews, but the writer flouts his ignorance and assumes that all Israeli citizens become Jews. See 4:32 of the video. Oh, I see. The writer fails to evaluate the veracity of the Egyptian expert.



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