Tuesday, April 27, 2010

do we really want the unvarnished truth?



Video - Colonel Jessup breaks it down.

NYTimes | Why are people praising Chinese autocracy these days? Perhaps they fear that the open society is opening too wide.

The trend toward reappraisal of China comes after hard years for democracy enthusiasts: Iraq and Afghanistan; Hamas’s election; the disappointment of many of Europe’s colored revolutions; persistent repression in Iran and Myanmar; an economic crisis that free societies were unable to prevent and unravel; growing sclerosis in the U.S. political system; and China’s extraordinary success, despite what Westerners have often regarded as a political system incompatible with success.

The question the reappraisers seem to be asking is whether their belief in bottom-up, spontaneously ordering, self-regulating societies blinded them to other truths (as their enthusiasm for China risks blinding them to the cruelty and violence of autocracy). They are asking: Can openness go too far? Can public opinion be measured too frequently? Can free speech sow disorder? Is the crowd really smarter than the experts? Can transparency hamper governance?

Or, to put it in the terms of an influential 1997 essay, is the bazaar always better than the cathedral?

In that essay, Eric S. Raymond, a software programmer, heralded the rise of the Linux operating system and the bottom-up, open-source, we-the-people world that it reflected. He wrote that old-style software was “built like cathedrals, carefully crafted by individual wizards or small bands of mages working in splendid isolation.” Open-source pointed to a new way: “a great babbling bazaar of differing agendas and approaches,” as he put it, “out of which a coherent and stable system could seemingly emerge only by a succession of miracles.”

Mr. Raymond’s immediate subject was software, but his essay spoke for the age. It was a moment when democracy seemed on the march worldwide, when “the end of history” had been declared by Francis Fukuyama, when new tools called Web logs, or blogs, promised to empower the little guy. In that moment, as went the open-source technology, so went the world.

But today, in this moment of autocrat envy, as goes the world, so goes the technology.

Unfettered openness has been a near theology not merely for boosters of democracy; it is also the defining ethos of the Internet. But here, too, are signs of pushback and a new questioning among technophiles about the limits of openness. Fist tap Nana.

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