The Internet and Muhammad Bouazizi
Column by Steven LaTulippe.
Exclusive to STR
Around the globe, a specter is haunting government. From Washington to Beijing, bureaucrats and apparatchiks are circling the Internet like lions at a wildebeest migration, desperately searching for ways to stop the Web’s relentless flow of information. Some want to “license” users or directly censor websites. Some want to use subtler tools, like ambiguous regulations and endless red tape. Others simply unleash state violence and torture to silence purveyors of “seditious” information.
To the casual observer, this may seem rather nonsensical. After all, the Internet is merely a forum for the exchange of ideas, a global electronic marketplace where everyday people can meet, debate, and enlighten one another. As such, the Internet represents an unparalleled boon to humanity by reducing the time and cost of communication and innovation.
Throughout history, one of the greatest impediments to human advancement has been the sheer size of the planet and the seemingly insurmountable barriers of time and space. Paper, for instance, was invented in China sometime in the 2nd Century AD, but did not arrive in Europe until the 13th Century AD – over a thousand years later. Today, thanks to the Internet, new ideas can circumnavigate the globe almost instantaneously, providing fodder for yet more ideas and more innovation.
All things being equal, one would expect governments to welcome the arrival of the Internet with open arms, to celebrate its enormous potential for human advancement.
Instead, the Internet is being met with hostility, suspicion, and censorship.
Why the fear? Why the hysteria?
To some, this may seem obvious, but it is crucial to lay out governments’ objections in careful detail. By doing so, we can learn a great deal about statism and the nature of the postmodern governance that currently plagues our planet.
Like a laboratory experiment, a perfect example of the world-shattering implications of the Internet is unfolding before our very eyes in Tunisia. That North African nation has languished under the boot of a CIA-backed “president for life” for two decades. President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali has run Tunisia like his own private piggy bank, complete with the usual accoutrements of secret police, censorship, and rampant corruption. The end product is a devastated economy that cannot supply jobs and basic necessities for its people.
This sad situation was described by Reuters in a recent article about the Tunisian city of Sidi Bouzid, where recent unrest began:
According to a recent GUTW study, the city's poverty rate currently stands at 12.8 percent, while unemployment among female university graduates stands at 44 percent, compared to a national average of 19 percent. Unemployment among male graduates stands at 25 percent, meanwhile, compared to a national average of 13.4 percent.
It was in this small, unassuming Tunisian city where a desperate university graduate named Muhammad Bouazizi lit himself on fire. Bouazizi had tried for years to find a job, without success, until he finally took matters into his own hands. He started a business, a small fruit stand where he sold produce to local shoppers. And he was doing just fine until December 17, when a policeman seized his business for lack of a “permit” (which, in most of the world, means that he didn’t have enough money to bribe the government officials who were harassing him).
At this point, the story would usually end. Bouazizi would join the millions of unnamed victims of government atrocities. He would become just another corpse, joining millions like him, from the killing fields of Pol Pot to the mass graves of the Ukraine. There is no reason to assume that his fate would be special in any way or cause any unusual consequences for his oppressors.
Except for one little fly in the ointment.
Unfortunately for President Ben Ali, Julian Assange’s Wikileaks had recently released an American diplomatic cable that described, in chapter and verse, the rampant corruption rotting its way through Tunisia. And, unfortunately for President Ben Ali, his people read all about it on the Web.
While the Tunisian people have been languishing in poverty lo these many years, the president’s family and his cronies were amassing enormous fortunes--wealth not earned through productive achievement but stolen by the coercive powers of the state.
President Ben Ali’s luck took another bad turn when Tunisian youths published accounts of Bouazizi’s self-immolation on Facebook. And they didn’t stop there. They proceeded to organize street protests using a variety of social network sites. The demonstrations spread like wildfire, morphing into a revolution that eventually forced Ben Ali to flee the country.
And so the mould has been cast.
Every governing system in the world today operates on the same principles as Ben Ali’s Tunisia. Be it a Western democracy or a North African banana republic, the details may vary, but the essentials remain the same.
Ayn Rand once said that there are only two kinds of people in the world: those who survive by conquering nature, and those who survive by conquering those who conquer nature. Most people earn their living through productive achievement. But some people do so by perpetrating acts of force or fraud on helpless victims.
All governing elites live in fear that one day the masses will catch on, that the common folk will realize that the “president for life” and his cronies are really just parasites who are using the coercive powers of the state to exploit the productive citizenry. This realization strikes terror into the hearts of even our own potentates – from the military-industrial complex to the Federal Reserve.
Statist elites depend on two things to perpetuate their scam: that their oppressive acts can be perpetrated behind a cloak of obscurity and that the productive citizenry should remain too disconnected and disorganized to rebel.
The Internet has overturned both assumptions. As demonstrated by events in Tunisia, a petty shakedown by government thugs can quickly become a national cause célèbre. And the masses of people can quickly organize themselves to overthrow a tyrant.
Around the world, governments are sweating in fear.
Somehow, someway, the Internet must be stopped. For otherwise, the statist parasites cannot long survive.