Friday, May 01, 2015

Will The Internet Change the Chinese Government?

Professor Greg Austin, Professorial Fellow, EastWest Institute (New York) will speak on "China and Ethics in the Information Age", 12:30pm, 6 May 2015, at the Australian National University in Canberra. Professor Austin is the author of Cyber policy in China (Wiley, 2014) and a talk on the book from the Brookings Institution is also available.

It occurs to me that the "universalizing effects" of the information age Professor Austin refers to also apply to other governments, including that of the USA. It is usually assumed that the Internet is a product of the USA and brings with it US values, but it should be noted that the World Wide Web was developed by and for European scientists, with different values.

Abstract for Professor Austin's Canberra Talk

China’s leaders want the country’s citizenry and other governments to believe that the Communist Party controls the ethical settings of the country’s participation in the global information society, especially in respect of the principle of “internet sovereignty” and state censorship. This is a propaganda claim that can be challenged on several levels. At the theoretical level, relying on philosophers of the information age, we can conclude that once China’s leaders made a commitment to transform it into an advanced information society, deeply integrated into a global information ecosystem, they became subject to new ethical realities.

A theoretical view of the information age as portending some sort of ethical transformation finds support among China’s ruling elite. These theoretical views are being reflected in public source analysis in China of the evolution of ethics in response to the dilemmas of the information age. On the basis of both theory and observed reality, one can argue that the macro-ethical settings for China’s participation in the information age are very different from what Chinese leaders want it to be and say it is. There are, simultaneously, powerful universalizing effects of the information age, for better and for worse, and powerful fragmenting forces, for better and for worse, that the Chinese leaders say they can contain but almost certainly cannot.

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