Keep Your Enemies Closer

It’s a cliché, yes, but it has validity. I thought about this when discussing internet usage in restrictive countries in class. We discussed Bingchun Meng’s piece “From Steamed Bun to Grass Mud Horse: E Gao as alternative political discourse on the Chinese Internet.” This “hidden transcript”, as professor Hayden described it, is an art form for humor, sarcasm and critical, yet teasing, analysis.

 E Gao is perhaps not as hidden as I first thought. It is a wide spread art form known by many, and I would have to assume is noticed by the government. I found this article from 2007 expressing concern in E Gao. If E Gao has been creating worries since at least 2007, why is it still allowed. China has no problem clamping down on public forums. Monitoring and refusal of freedom of speech is not uncommon in China. So if the government does know about this, why hasn’t E Gao been shut down?

 Professor Hayden discussed in class how a lot of things can be said in China, but as soon as they are expressed in a way to promote organization, China will begin censoring. So, assuming that this is the case, there are two reasons I can think of on why E Gao still creeps through the cracks. One, it’s not organized and causes no threat. Or, two, it’s in the best interest of a country to keep its enemies closer, and what better way than by allowing some unwanted activity.

 I found that Ian Shapiro confirms this theory in his Washington Post article “U.S. funding tech firms that help Mideast dissidents evade government censors.” As the title suggests, the U.S. is helping fund what many believe was at the heart of the Arab Spring, access to internet and in turn human rights. A non-profit organization, The Tor Project, discussed in Shapiro’s article, helps journalists, law enforcement, intelligence agencies and even U.S. and European governments with Tor for intelligence gathering, but they will not honor requests from Middle East governments that want to conduct  surveillance on their citizens.

 Perhaps this is why some Middle East governments are losing their power. If you offer no freedom you must seek it out somewhere else, and that somewhere else may be more powerful. China may be keeping its society from having the need to reach out, but still keeping a close surveillance, just as each of our accounts may be closely watched by government branches in the U.S. But do we feel the need to seek other forms of accessibility? Too many restrictions and you are failing to keep your enemies closer.


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Whose side are you on?

The Washington Post article by Ian Shapira was particularly interesting this week, but I think that there is more to this issue of U.S. administrations’ role in preventing or supporting authoritarian regimes monitor and censor citizens. The Shapira article, U.S. funding tech firms that help Mideast dissidents evade government censors,” discusses the positive side of the U.S. role. It says that, “Federal agencies — such as the State Department, the Defense Department and the Broadcasting Board of Governors — have been funding a handful of technology firms that allow people to get online without being tracked or to visit news or social media sites that governments have blocked. Many of these little-known organizations — such as the Tor Project and UltraReach— are unabashedly supportive of the activists in the Middle East.”

This is a crucial step in supporting the citizens of countries in the Middle East, as opposed to supporting the regimes. This funding is great because it sets a tone for U.S. companies that produce this software. However, there is still an obvious disconnect between U.S. support for citizens and any opposition to oppressive regimes. Openly supporting citizens over regimes causes problems for U.S. diplomacy with economic partner countries such as Saudi Arabia and China, ” which are known to block Web sites they deem dangerous,” according to the article.

Additionally, it may not matter what the government funds if other U.S. companies are selling spyware software to authoritarian regimes. It’s true that the government is between a rock and a hard place with balancing economic and strategic diplomatic relations with doing the right thing by supporting dissidents of authoritarian regimes. But this 2009 article from The Guardian offers somewhat of a solution to the problem. It would force regimes to go else where for spyware, and be another small step in supporting citizens.

Ĉu vi parolas Esperanton?

The idea of linguistic exclusion discussed in the chapter by Paul Adams made me think of Esperanto, the most successful attempt thus far to create an artificial language purely for international communicative purposes. The story of Esperanto’s creation is remarkable in itself. Esperanto was literally invented by Leyzer Zamenhof, a Jewish man, who was born in the territory of the Russian Empire in 1859. His small town of Białystok (in present-day Poland) was populated by people from four different ethnic groups: Jews, Poles, Belarusians, and Germans. Each community spoke its own language and stuck to its own customs. The level of misunderstanding and mistrust was so high that Zamenhof, a medical doctor by profession, dedicated most of his time to the invention of a new language for intercultural communication, which, he hoped, would facilitate a more peaceful coexistence for people in multicultural communities.

Esperanto’s grammar and vocabulary were borrowed from multiple Indo-European languages and were constructed in such a manner as to facilitate easy recognition by speakers of different languages, as well as quick learning. Since its creation in the late 19th century, Esperanto gained a good deal of popularity in Europe, China, Japan, and the Americas. The world congress of Esperanto speakers has been held annually since 1905. Apart from its enthusiasts all over the world, Esperanto has gained the support and recognition of international organizations such as UNESCO.

Despite its seeming usefulness, Esperanto failed to develop into a real international tool of communication. Instead, English became the de-facto lingua franca—mainly for economic reasons and sort of by default. Esperanto enthusiasts all over the world, however, are vocal about actually replacing English as a language of international communication with Esperanto. What is interesting is that their main argument is along the same lines as the integral role of communication in global governance, which we have discussed in class: namely, that everybody has a right to participate in the political process, and language disparity hinders this participation. Enthusiasts, like Robert Phillipson from the University of Amsterdam, promote Esperanto as an auxiliary language which should become mandatory in the globalized world. Importantly, Esperanto is promoted as a second language, an auxiliary to the native one, thus it is not aimed at substituting native languages.

The advantages of Esperanto are obvious: it is nobody’s native language and does not carry any cultural connotations apart from the idealistic attempt to facilitate understanding. Thus communication in Esperanto is a more egalitarian process than in English. Also, as research of Esperanto speakers (Esperantists) shows, they tend to see themselves as a “voluntary, nonethnic, non-territorial speech community” (Li, p. 36). This seems to correspond with the processes of transnational network formation, which take place in a network society. Besides, learning an international language would require patience and attention to what someone is actually saying, and in the modern conception of democracy, this by itself is a significant act. So, according to Esperanto scholars, a neutral tool of communication like Esperanto is necessary for global governance to be truly democratic.

I feel that this debate about the international language of communication, as idealistic as it may seem, is timely, especially in light of the fact that there is so much frustration and resentment toward West-led globalization. I want to believe that the world is what we make of it, and if the present world order, with all its advanced technology, needs new tools of communication, sooner or later they will be introduced.  And maybe in 100 years our descendents will speak a second, international, language, one that won’t be a result of economic hegemony, but rather of voluntary agreement.


Here is a very interesting video about Esperanto:



Materials used:

Daniele Archibugi, “The Language of Democracy: Vernacular or Esperanto? A Comparison between the Multiculturalist and Cosmopolitan Perspectives,” in Political Studies, vol, 53, 2005, 537-555.

David C. S. Li, “Between English and Esperanto: what does it take to be a world language?” in International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 164, 2003, 33-63.

Cultural Co-option

Earlier in the semester we talked some in class about Native American cultural and co-option of cultural symbols and history. To go from there, here is a clip about the same issue from Al Jazeera English’s The Stream.

The blogger says that a certain level of cultural appropriation is expected in a multi-cultural society, but it’s about who has the power to use the cultural symbols and what the reasoning behind the use is.

This sort of commercialization of native cultures is what they say is the problem. It is degrading. For example, members of the Santee Sioux Nation are targeting Urban Outfitters for its use of patterns and symbols of the culture. Here is an open letter from  a Sioux member to the CEO. It points out that this use of Native American symbols is actually illegal.

The guests and host bring up many more instances of cultural appropriation that are interesting. I’m not sure how I feel about this issue yet, to be honest, but I wanted to bring it up again to hear what you think. Is use of these symbols for commercialization and entertainment a serious issue that is detrimental to the Native American community, or is the community overreacting to any extent?

Messaging Across Professions

I’m writing this blog as I sit on a plane headed for the West Coast for a conference for work – The North American Cystic Fibrosis Conference (NACFC).   It’s an annual meeting for hundreds of medical professional involved with Cystic Fibrosis and rotates location around the country each year. Those invited include doctors, nurses, hospital/ care center administrators and pharmaceutical reps from all around the world. My job, however, is to work with a group of people not involved in the medical profession. I work with the volunteers: the parents, the grandparents, the siblings, friends and advocates of Cystic Fibrosis (CF) patients. These inspirational figures put their passion and commitment towards finding a cure and have funded the medical advances being discussed in the conference.

I found it necessary to draw a comparison from class to my experiences now since I am writing while preparing for the conference. NACFC is an amazing event for the CF community and it really draws on Chouliarki’s reference to messaging, concluding that it may not be about what’s in the message and instead what significance the message can have to different people and cultures.

I find this statement incredibly accurate – and important for organizations to understand. In our conference, we are delivering many different messages to a variety of audiences. Perhaps the most counter-intuitive messaging goes to the big pharma reps. The docs, the care centers and the parents want to hear updates, they want to be well informed, and most of all they want to be inspired that new drugs are being developed that will change and lengthen the lives of CF patients. The reps on the other hand, not to diminish any human kindness, often times want to know about the $$$. Why would a pharmaceutical company, a for profit institution, want to help CF, a disease that afflicts 30,000 patients, when they could trigger lung disease which affects a much larger demographic? Let me assure you, we can convince some reps. It’s not with the statement of the CF child, which trust me would most likely pull at your heart strings, but instead with what they like the most $$$. It’s called “venture philanthropy”. It’s a way of making philanthropy and investment.

After that long explanation, what I’m trying to pull out of it is that not every attendee comes to the conference with the same expectations, nor do they receive the same messaging, but they do all leave with a common goal – to end CF. Like OWS, which is much more scattered than NACFC, audiences are able to understand that there are common problems around the world regardless of the actual message. NACFC crosses occupational and country lines across a diverse group of people who leave the conference understanding the common underlying significance.

Lastly, I wanted to reference another point Chouliarki made that connects to my conference.  Chouliarki discussed the delivery of messages and how it can impact the response. To paraphrase, ‘The way I address you, says a lot about how you should respond.’ At NACFC as I mentioned above, my job is to host a few events for our volunteers and major donors. These events conclude with a dinner where we discuss our fundraising campaign with the message- ‘You helped the science discussed at this conference, and we need you to continue helping.’ If we address you in terms of thank you and “look at all you have done for us and where your money is going” – there is a hope that the response will be even more support.

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Network Cosmology

When I read the articles by David Grewal and Amelia H. Arsenault, I could not help but think about what a great advance 20th century thinkers in terms of the social. If 19th century theorists provided us with the image of the atomized “economic man,” self-contained classes or institutions (like church), sovereign nation-states, or even different civilizations, now, at the beginning of the 21st century, we suspect that the relations among these units also matter, and that they are not neutral.

It seems to me that network theory is a powerful tool in the analysis of our present, as well as of our past and future (as ungrateful of a task as predicting the future can be). For example, given the idea that networks wield structural power over insiders and outsiders, we can trace and uncover the internal dynamics of the inception and growth of empires, the rise of powerful social movements (like the Bolsheviks in the Russian Empire), as well as the effectiveness of multilateral agreements. How did the growth of the Christian Church and the increase in the number of its followers predetermine its split and ultimate loss of power? Was the structural power of the Catholic Church too much to tolerate so that its individual members (like Henry the VIII or Martin Looter) instituted their own Churches-networks? How were the 20 people who gathered in a British pub, and called themselves Bolsheviks, first able to appeal to so many Russian people? As soon as the revolution progressed, so did the Bolsheviks’ perceived need for brutal suppression of the opponents, and the Bolsheviks experienced the wave of dissent from their party-network. In the long run how did this predetermine the collapse of the Soviet Empire?

Of course it would be too simplistic to approach these large-scale historic processes solely from the prospective of network analysis. However, it seems that human institutions do operate more like networks than like self-contained isolated units (even when they deliberately search to be quite isolated and exclusive, like freemasons for example). A latter given to one mason would definitely travel to another mason even if he lived in a different country, just like a secret message from one Bolshevik to another would find its addressee within the network. This internal connectedness facilitated the effective functioning and guaranteed the survival of networks throughout history. In this sense networks definitely are not a discovery of modernity or post modernity, but it has been in the computer age that their social significance grew dramatically.

In the conclusion of her chapter, Amelia H. Arsenault calls for greater integration in field of network theory, and this call seems to me very timely given the new scientific insights into network power. First of all, relations within networks—the subject of ANT theory—seem to be as important as the ones outside network (Castells). For example, modern-day civil society is defined as “the realm of autonomous group action distinct from both corporate power and the state,” (Robert W. Cox, “Civil society at the turn of millennium”)—thus civil society is a multiplicity of networks which are excluded from corporate or state networks. Given the expectations vested in civil society in democratic theory (and practice), the quality and quantity of networks within civil society as well as the fact that they have been excluded from certain over networks are equally important.

Second, network theory seems to capture the core nature of multiple processes in the realms of social as well as physical worlds. Just like in cosmos all stars, galaxies, and even universes are held together by the force of gravity and exist in the eternal condition of mobility, in the same way social entities spring from the eternal movement of social forces, mature, and (most importantly) dissolve only to form new networks with new qualities on the basis of new means of communication. In this regard, it would be interesting to analyze the internal dynamics within growing networks to trace their life cycle. In his article, Grewal only hints at the fact that networks “decline over time,” but never develops this idea. In the meantime a better understanding of network dynamics would help us to shed light on many social processes. For example, why after the dissolution of the bipolar world, did connections between allied anticommunist countries weakene considerably giving rise to the multiple local alliances (like NAFTA) and more parochial policies (R. Gilpin, The Challenge of Global Capitalism) in all parts of the world? Was this outcome a pure accident, or maybe it was a predictable consequence of the dissolution of two powerful networks?  Or along the same lines, is the growing power of the “imperialistic” forces of globalization the beginning of the globalization’s end? For as history demonstrates, none of the empires was able to last forever, and the rise to dominance of one force is usually at the same time the beginning of its decline.

Sorry for the long post. For a diversion, here are two images: one of space, and the other a diagram of social network. These look kind of similar to me.

Friend Me.

I have a problem. I am not disciplined enough to use social media. I know, ironic, considering I am blogging as we speak, but honestly, I have no idea how to really use it. Sure, I look at my friends engagement photos and new babies. I post a funny lyric or quote from time to time. But when it comes to productively, consistently and well, straight up remembering, Facebook and I just aren’t great friends.

 It’s funny, because me being not as good friends with Facebook makes me less good friends with hundreds of people I don’t really know and otherwise would probably not even say hello to on the street. I feel excluded from this ever growing network society.

 Though I feel excluded from this society, I feel that not being as active makes me more included to many “real” friends. I actually have to call them to see what’s going on, get together to see pictures from their honeymoon, and even send an e-mail to catch up. Yes, scary thoughts, I know.

 More concisely I am saying that Facebook makes you feel included if you use it well, but excluded if you don’t. The reverse is that Facebook can exclude you from your “real friends” because you no longer need to work as hard to keep the relationship, and they may notice.

 Interestingly however, my international friends and I have much better relationships when they join Facebook. Perhaps this is because the alternative is not necessarily a visit or even a phone call. You can start where you left off with slight knowledge of what has been going on in their lives, and for some reason, in this case, it’s less creepy.

I find the idea of how social media sets an inclusive and exclusive environment fascinating. It is not a straight answer and can change by culture, by context and by medium. I bet I’ll notice this more often and maybe, just maybe, I’ll be better with Facebook.

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