Havel in Havana, Trotsky in Tianjin

6 Mar

Originally posted at Iqra’i.

The NYT today has a deliciously intriguing piece today on signs of “cyber-rebellion” in Cuba. It’s got some similarities to the emerging narrative out of China: government tries to restrict the flow of information over the Web, pro-freedom hacker youth find creative solutions and (thanks to exposure to the Great Big World Out There) begin to understand how oppressed they really are. In the case of Cuba, however, Internet access is much more restricted so information is spread via flash drives passed on from person to person.

Technically, I’m sure this makes it less efficient and circumscribes the potential range of any given communication. But it also becomes a fundamentally different type of revolution. It’s using technology to reinforce existing lived relationships, and connect them to a broader historical narrative. What this means is that the world of “truth” represented by free flow of information is congruent to the world in which people live, and opposed to the “false world” of the state. In China, by contrast, the lived world is opposed to the virtual world, and therefore can’t help but be on the side of lies (symbolically, at least).

I’m extremely wary about citing techno-subversion as a sign of incipient revolution under any circumstance — for one thing, the mainstream media’s tendency to consider any online unrest a symbol of widespread “discontent of the young within the system” seems to rely on projecting American patterns of Internet use rather than considering whether or not all youth in a country actually have Internet access, and whether it’s fair to generalize about those who don’t. But I think if it does happen, it’ll be more likely to happen under a Cuban model, where rebellion is amphibious between the lived world and cyberspace, than under a Chinese one.

The man who said “It is difficult to imagine that even manifest ‘dissent’ could have any other basis than the service of truth, the truthful life, and the attempt to make room for the genuine aims of life” was one of the most successful revolutionaries of the past century. I can see the Havelian spirit in Cuban cyber-rebellion. The man who said “You cannot live through (life) unless you have before you a great idea which raises you above personal misery,” died, a failure in exile, at the hands of his gardener. There is some degree of Trotskyism in the internationalist, super-virtual Chinese rebellion. I like it far less.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply