Undoing our conventional wisdom
Q: Opposition protests against Kyrgystan's government today, like the protests in Iran late last year, demonstrate the power of citizens to challenge and even overthrow their political leaders. How can leaders recognize the signs of growing rage among followers? In the age of YouTube and Twitter, do citizens and followers have more power to challenge leaders?
So we all thought in the 1980s, when Secretary of State George Shultz explained to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev how the "information revolution" would invariably sweep away totalitarians. Computer power would trump people power. Resembling Karl Marx's certitude, here at least was a historical inevitability. Everyone had better recognize this "march of history."
We know now, 25 years later, that history moves mysteriously. It doesn't march in a straight line. We now know two flaws in our conventional wisdom from back then.
First, that government officials control the network switches -- to block "unhelpful" sites, phrases, or words. And that governments control a lot of keyboards -- to flood the airwaves. China, Iran and the like have done remarkably well squashing "the power of citizens to challenge," maybe more than we ever suspected.
Second, we've come to realize that countries can indeed attain economic development without political development. Greater prosperity doesn't rely on greater liberty. What we'd thought -- that development needed open sources of information, and open choices -- ain't necessarily so (as the "Porgy & Bess" tune goes.) Again, see China.
Hence the people power in Kyrgystan, while a most welcome development, is a most unusual one. Oppressed people overthrew bad leaders long before Twitter, but haven't done so a lot more since its advent. It's a shame, unexpected, but sadly true....
Posted by: bitterblogger | April 8, 2010 6:59 PM
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