Sunday, October 02, 2016

Learning the Taboos

This list has made it into the mainstream media and hilarity ensues.
What’s more, once a code like this is widely known, it becomes much easier for users of it to be shamed or disregarded by their peers. That’s what happened with Pepe the Frog, the de facto mascot of the alt-right, which has gone from an underground symbol of racism to an official “hate symbol,” as certified by the Anti-Defamation League (prompting the creator of the cartoon frog to disavow its use by the alt-right, and declare that he’ll vote for Hillary Clinton). And the triple parentheses were re-appropriated by Jews and the left as a symbol of solidarity, co-opting the original, racist meaning.
The Chinese government provides a good template for online censorship. It bans certain sensitive words on social media, forcing Chinese netizens to create alternatives. Superficially, what's happening in China and the West is the same.

It differs in the official states. Private censorship in American is legal, but "un-American." In China it is state policy. In America, anyone could become a target of the mob for posting something "offensive." In China, one first gets posts removed. Then if persistent, a chat with police. One doesn't accidentally get sanctioned in China.

Also, Twitter engages in shadow bans and along with Facebook will remove trending topics, but for the most part the censorship is openly discussed and even cheered by the media. In China, the state-controlled media tends to downplay censorship. While censorship is sometimes discussed as a technical matter, what is being censored is not discussed because...it's censored.

In China, censorship mostly revolves around the legitimacy of the state and the party running it. It's about getting as close to lese majeste as possible without invoking it. In America, censorship is about enforcing taboos and policing group membership. In China, the actual "enemies of the state" end up with the more severe punishment and you probably only hear about it because Western media is reporting it. There is no audience beyond the other activists. In America, the target isn't even the final object. The victims who lose their jobs or become social targets are the vessel, they are a random execution for the rest of the country to witness. Enemy and ally alike.

Which brings us to the university system and this article that appeared around the same time: WHAT CHINESE, SINGAPOREAN UNIVERSITIES CAN TEACH US ABOUT ACADEMIC FREEDOM
In China, social scientists and humanists are freer by far than they were under Mao Zedong ( 毛澤東 ), but are still heavily restricted when it comes to publication on issues such as the policies of the top leadership, elements of the history of the Chinese Communist Party, and issues to do with contemporary social unrest, religion, and the formation of civil society organisations. Off the record, many Chinese scholars grumble that academic freedom has become more restricted in the past two years in particular. Yet still the ranking numbers for China’s major universities climb. The idea that if political scientists are not free, then physicists cannot flourish, may not be right.
The Chinese and Singaporean universities are rising in the rankings because if you don't care about local politics, you have more academic freedom than in much of the West and given existing trends, this will become more true in time. There is a severe cost to censorship, even if carried out in the private economy.

The simplest and most likely explanation for what we're witnessing is we're approaching the point of the revolution eating its own in America, but with a few retrograde holdouts still available. The revolution will eat Yale and Missouri professors if necessary, but if "racist trolls" want to jump in front waving their arms, it makes an inviting snack. We need a new 2 minutes of hate every 2 minutes, otherwise people will stop supporting the regime.

Another explanation is that whereas the Chinese government is threatened by words such as liberty and democracy, the Cathedral is genuinely threatened by a list of slurs. A sovereign who strictly controls liberty and the process for choosing leaders will censor discussion of liberty and democracy to defend its legitimacy. If calling people Skypes and Googles threatens the legitimacy of the Cathedral...

I can imagine a theocracy might ban pornography, and might need increasingly sophisticated ways to stop people from tweeting gay porn at people. But if it was Christian it should stop at that, or if not, only the most egregious offenders would be targets for sanction. If gay porn tweeters were randomly selected for public shaming and punishment as if that was the worst thing happening in society, it would be strange thing. It would suggest the regime felt this was one of the best ways of ensuring its legitimacy. But that's insane.

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