John Kerry and This Little Thing Called the Internet

In a recent speech at the U.S. Embassy in Brazil, John Kerry made some very telling remarks about the difficulties of governance in the digital age:

I’m a student of history, and I love to go back and . . . think about the 18th, 19th centuries and the balance of power and how difficult it was for countries to advance their interests and years and years of wars. And we sometimes say to ourselves, boy, aren’t we lucky. Well, folks, ever since the end of the Cold War, forces have been unleashed that were tamped down for centuries by dictators, and that was complicated further by this little thing called the internet and the ability of people everywhere to communicate instantaneously and to have more information coming at them in one day than most people can process in months or a year.

It makes it much harder to govern, makes it much harder to organize people, much harder to find the common interest, and that is complicated by a rise of sectarianism and religious extremism that is prepared to employ violent means to impose on other people a way of thinking and a way of living that is completely contrary to everything the United States of America has ever stood for. So we need to keep in mind what our goals are and how complicated this world is that we’re operating in.

Ah… first world problems. You’d think John Kerry would be totally down with the internet—I mean, didn’t his former running mate create it? Nonetheless, this little speech is a gem mine field of bad thinking. Let me restate what he said in a way that makes it even more obvious than it already is, since some of my readers might be hard of hearing:

I reminisce about the simpler good old days when solidarity was achieved through force rather than persuasion and dissenting voices were immediately squelched by ruthless dictators. But ever since the dissolution of the Evil Empire, technological changes have made it possible for even the most insignificant citizen to broadcast his personal political opinion internationally and instantaneously, resulting in a much more active and independent citizenry. This has made demagoguery, assassinations, genocide, starvation, propaganda, and disenfranchisement—the usual tools of dictators—so much less effective. Now, the civil government must use more subtle methods. I’m just saying we need to keep this in mind if we are to achieve our goals.

And what exactly are his goals? That part is always left very murky. His methods are obvious enough. If it weren’t for the whistle-blowing potential of the instantaneous and uncontrollable internet, I’m sure John Kerry would watch any number of kidnappings and secret executions with a nostalgic tear in his history-loving eye. Even now, mainstream media of all stripes and political leanings are, either by accident or design, firmly in line with the civil government’s Orwellian truth-cloaking. And all of the smaller media outlets on the internet are being branded as—what did he call it?—“sectarian” or “extremist.”

In a roundabout way, John Kerry’s remarks really encourage me. Because it means perhaps more people than I thought are using the internet for more than porn, facebook, and kitten videos. So keep pumping out the largely ignored truth, internet. Some of us are listening.