The excellent Tanzania-focused blog Swahili Street kindly linked to my last post, and brought my attention to some important updates. Apparently, those tensions I mentioned between Tanzanians and Chinese traders in Dar have reached new heights. Seems the delicate balance has tipped somewhat, at least for now. Please have a read of the well-sourced article here.
I read this passage in a biography of Mao Zedong (yes, I am making my way through all the major historical figures) and started having nightmares about Facebook. This is from the early 1940s, when Mao was consolidating his base for war against the Nationalists. According to Mao: The Untold Story, the Party chairman interrogated vast swaths of his young recruits in order to instill in them feelings of submission and control, and to foster an atmosphere of deep mistrust, as friends informed on each other.
“One supreme accomplishment of the terror campaign was to squeeze out every drop of information about any link whatever with the Nationalists. Mao introduced a ‘Social Relationship’ form: ‘Tell everyone to write down every single social relationship of any kind [my emphasis].’ At the end of the campaign, the regime compiled a dossier on every Party member. The result was that Mao knew every channel the Nationalists might use to infiltrate in the forthcoming showdown. Indeed, during the civil war, while the Nationalists were penetrated like sieves, they had virtually zero success infiltrating the Communists. Mao had forged a machine that was virtually watertight.”
That blew my mind a little. Facebook could do for free what took Mao huge expense and organized brutality. It’s a Stasi/KGB/mukhabarat/CIA dream come true.
As this blog’s sidebars should prove, I love social media. But at its worst, can it be a voluntary Panopticon? Maybe the point is irrelevant in a mostly functioning democracy (actually, I don’t think it is), but certainly this historical perspective on state surveillance is relevant to all the arguments boosting social media in, ahem, more controlled atmospheres.
One thing’s for sure: no more pictures of any substance on Facebook for me.
Everyone should read Nelson Mandela’s autobiography! In fact, you probably already have. But I’m a little late to the game and just did it, finally. Long Walk to Freedom is deeply inspiring. It’s the story of an unbelievably strong man who remained a freedom fighter in every aspect of his life, whether he was free or jailed, whether he was trying to dismantle apartheid or simply trying to get Robben Island’s prisoners access to reading materials. More than that, though, the book is a wonderful model for anyone fighting for a just cause against overwhelming odds. Mandela is a master at balancing long- and short-term goals, making smart compromises, and not letting emotion supersede tactics. Perhaps the most moving part of the whole book is Mandela’s willingness, in the end, to partner — in the service of the greater good — with the same people who stole almost everything of personal meaning from his life.
For these reasons, Mandela’s book has lessons far beyond the anti-apartheid movement. I can think of applications from the United States to the Middle East to China and Tibet. Luckily for us, he offers up many quotable passages that provide food for thought. Here are my seven favorite, with a note or two on how I think they have broader applications. Continue reading