30 March 2010

CCP v Google – the Chinese pick up Maslow’s hammer.

You could think a lot about why Google closed down its chinese search engine.

Was it the cyber attacks on Google suspected to be orchestrated by Beijing? Was it the inherent conflict between “Don’t be evil” and complicity in Chinese Communist Party censorship? Or could Google simply not compete against Baidu in the battle for chinese search engine share?

Your humble writer doesn’t know. However, its hard to get away from the fact that Google spat the dummy over ‘net censorship and the CCP were happy to show them the door if they weren’t going to play ball.

The CCP is obsessed with controlling the ‘net and, as Colonel Klink would say “they have ways of making you talk” (or not talk). There are currently more than 30,000 civil servants dedicated to censorship activities and an unknown number of secret police and other personnel devoted to intimidating dissidents and enforcing the party’s ‘net edicts.

I can’t help wondering if the CCP is a victim of Maslow’s hammer, trying to use traditional strong arm tactics to control something as fluid as the ‘net. Could the CCP stand to learn a thing or two from the US Republicans?

On paper the Republicans platforms are unelectable.

They favour tax cuts for the wealthiest 10% of the population, are against health insurance for 32 million citizens and went to war on a mistake (at best).

If US citizens voted their interests, there wouldn’t be a Republican party.

However, far from disappearing, the Republicans are surging back and may well be at least competitive in the November mid terms. And they are surging back in the poorest states in the Union.

How? In my view, an important factor is their appeal to emotion rather than reasons.

For instance, they don’t argue that a well funded public healthcare system is more expensive, they instead say its goddamned communism.

They don’t argue that tax cuts disproportionally favour the rich, they argue its about freedom of the working class.

They are also not afraid to try an old blood libel as in “the other side kill babies”.

The keys are: clear and emotive lines; party discipline to stay on message; and maybe a little help from a friendly media empire. All things the CCP should have in abundance.

If the Republicans can do it in the US with all the freedoms the Democrats and other opponents enjoy, surely the CCP can do it in China without the heavy stick of censorship?

I’m not a citizen of China, but from what I have seen, they are as patriotic and nationalistic as their US counterparts. I think CCP would have more success in appealing to those tendencies to create the myth of Chinese exceptionalism than to rely on secret police and an army of censors.

However, the CCP is fairly comfortable with the use of force to quell dissent, it would take a conceptual leap to rely exclusively on more subtle methods. As Mr Maslow said “If you have a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail”.


  1. I believe there is much more in common between the communist (ie China) and the 'democratic' nations' (ie USA) approach to implementing any particular outcome.

    I like the analogy approach here and will thus employ it. In my opinion the main difference between the two in today's world is that in a communist state the government has no problems using a hammer openly. After achieving whatever was wanted using a hammer the communist government makes a week argument that there no choice and the only realistic option had to be taken. The people begrudge this as obvious propaganda, live with it, and wait to be hit like a nail again.

    In a 'democracy' the situation is different. Note that I use the word 'democracy' with care and in quotation, for I do not believe that any major contemporary Western nation has a truly democratic system any more. That is, a fairly elected government by the people, for the people. Anyway, I digress:

    The twist in a country such as the USA is that although the government uses a hammer it is done covertly. This is allowed to occur through media lies and distraction. People realise sooner or later that they have been screwed. From the realisation that they have been screwed comes the happy assumption that no hammer was used. Again smoke and mirrors, Orwellian language and media make this possible. The lack of an obvious offending screwdriver allows the government to successfully plead innocence, even ignorance. Thus people end up screwed, a hammer was used, and nobody is to blame.

    Poor education, people's inability - or lack of desire - to assess political situations critically and the extremely long and influential hand of the media empire are to blame...But I won't start a new rant on that front just yet.

    My main point: both 'democratic' and communist systems work the same. Decisions are made and implemented in the background. The difference is how they are portrayed and handled in the foreground.

  2. In support of your comments, I have read (can't remember where) that the up and coming youth of China are aware of the censorship and on the whole don't care.

    Sounds pretty similar to the rubbish coming out of people's mouths here on health care reform. All soundbites, no logic.

    My favourite example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mKKKgua7wQk

  3. Victoria,

    Welcome to the discussion. Its good to hear the views of a person in the US on this matter. Its hard to really get a feel for politics in another country.

    Now...If only there was someone I know with deep knowledge of Google...