A couple of pieces I have stumbled on in the last 24 hours which rearranged my mental furniture a little. First, on China's 'smart' censorship:
...you can say pretty much anything you like on Chinese media, providing that it does not lead to any kind of action. “Chinese people can write the most vitriolic blogposts about even the top Chinese leaders without fear of censorship, but if they write in support of, or [even] in opposition to an ongoing protest – or even about a rally in favour of a popular policy or leader – they will be censored.”
Even more subtly, the volume of protests is used to gauge whether any given leader is sufficiently unpopular that his removal will make things go more smoothly. In this way the information signalling part of a market economy is co-opted to the service of an authoritarian state. It turns out that you can say what you like – and this includes all the kinds of hashtag activism. All you may not do is influence events away from the keyboard, or even refer to them. If there is a news story that suggests there might be a role for protest in the physical world, all comments referring to it are removed, whichever side they take.
And here's philosopher John Gray tearing strips off Francis Fukuyama's new book about how political development happens. The review never refers to China, but it bears directly on the durability of the authoritarian state China's leaders are trying to build:
...Fukuyama takes for granted that the end point of political development is the system of government he prefers. As he puts it here and in the previous volume, the problem that most of the world faces is 'getting to Denmark' - where 'Denmark' means not the actual country but 'an imagined society that is prosperous, democratic, secure, and well governed, and experiences low levels of corruption'. He sees many of the humanitarian and military interventions of Western governments as bungling attempts to promote this imaginary society: 'The international community would like to turn Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, and Haiti into idealized places like "Denmark," but it doesn't have the slightest idea of how to bring this about.'...
...But political legitimacy is a slippery business; people want many things apart from prosperity, accountability and low levels of corruption. They also demand expression of their national myths, identities and enmities - and quite often attach more importance to this aspect of government than they do to democracy. Somewhere above the fog that surrounds Francis Fukuyama's convoluted treatise hangs a clear and simple question: what if large sections of humanity don't much care about getting to Denmark?