Friday, 24 November, 2006The internet is one of the last bastions of true freedom: despite any country's best efforts to censor or "regulate" it, no one governmentindeed, a multitude of governments with corporate supportcan attempt to bend the internet to its will.
All it can hope for is subversion of local service providers, and perhaps censorship of key issues within the country, but never complete control of the Internet. Nothing can stop the free flow of information on the Internet: for every firewall and censorship method that appears, a human mind inevitably finds a way to circumvent these barriers, and the Internet respects no national borders.
This characteristic of the Internet has given rise to a new phenomenon, what I term the 'Political Internet' in this article (and perhaps, in the future). This is characterised by the exchange, discussion, addition, deletion, or analysis of; and action upon, political information uploaded on the Internet, on websites, blogs, forums, and so on. The Political Internet probablybut I cannot confirm thiswas born by a collective awareness that the Internet's freedom of information can never be completely taken. After political observers realised this, they wasted no time uploading their thoughts and analyses on the Internet, knowingconsciously or notthat they cannot be censured.
This freedom of information and communicationthe freedom to exchange, receive, upload, download, analyse, and criticise information on the Internethas transformed the political scene, everywhere in the world. The growth of powerful, free, easily available search engines like Google and Yahoo! have merely reinforced this freedom, by making this information easier and faster to find, including information pertaining to politics. Now, political discussions/diatribes/musings/forums/blogs can be found very easily on the Internet: the two main sources seem to be from countries where politics is a major part of lifeThe United Kingdom and the United States of Americaand from countries where politics is taboothe People's Republic of China and Singapore.
While coming from a seemingly diverse range of countries, topics, relevance, and interests, they have one thing in common: they are based on information, and knowledge
From information, we can glean knowledge about the world. By processing information, analysing it, and attempting to fit it in the superstructure of interconnected bits of information we hold within our mindsconsciously or notwe build more knowledge about the world around us.
Based on this knowledge, guided by our inner beliefs formed through personal experience, we take action, like eating or drinking; we know we need to do this after experiencing the sensations related to them, observing the after-effect, and picking up the appropriate response. Eventually, more sophisticated actions like conversation, or, in this case, writing (and in your case, reading) this essay. These are no longer guided by personal wants, but rather a higher need for communication, information, and knowledge, satisfied by the Internet's freedom of communication and information.
Effects around the world
The construction of knowledge through the Political Internet has revitalised the political arena everywhere in the world. American Republicans and Democratsnot just politicians, but citizens, toopush their agendas on websites and blogs, no longer just in the traditional media of radio, television, newspapers, books, andto some extentmovies.
In China, where politics is almost as much a taboo topic as it is over here in Singapore, bloggers and investigative journalists press for freedom and transparency from Beijing, posting articles attacking the Communist Party's policies and/or local events suppressed by the government, and letting people read these articles. In both countries, by posting their articles on the Internet, writers are communicating their beliefs to the readers. The readers, receiving this information and translating it into knowledge, then take action: in America, perhaps voting for a political party or criticising another's policies; in China, demanding action from Beijingand actually succeeding.
What is political?
Every issue, major or minor, always has an element of politics, be it on the international, national, or even community level. Lest we forget, politics is about the goals and policies of a government/organisation/group/person (whichever is appropriate), and the process of translating them into action.
It is separated into two phases: the means and the end. For example, for politicians, elections are a means (taking a seat in Parliament/Congress/appropriate office position) to an end (implementing ideas as the policy of the government/organisation/group to effect something, or representing the people, or any other goal). The political process could even be establishing a petition, where citizens are considered: the means is producing said petition, the end is pressing for action to be taken.
One certainly does not enter politics without an agenda of one's own. The problem is, everyone has an opinion on what is the 'best' course of action, and more often than not, some ideas, being the antithesis in part or whole to each other, must clash. For example, a member of America's National Rifle Association would naturally support a pro-gun stance, while gun control advocates would call for tighter restrictions on firearms. Should they meet and debate, their arguments would support their own opinions on guns (and maybe the other side), in an effort to persuade their counterparts, and, if on the national level, their fellow Americans, some of whom would then press for legislature favouring one side, convinced by that side.
Politics is inherently biased
By virtue of the fact that they craft arguments to support their stance, these two have proven that politics is inherently biasedto quote the Government, 'partisan'as there is no one, true view. Objectivity in politics cannot exist, for they are based on personal opinions and beliefs, which are naturally subjective. Even non-government organisations, with no affiliations to any political party, have agendas of their own: Amnesty International, for example, supports a liberal view of the world, by advocating the abolishment of the death penalty and other laws, and supports arms control and other policies, in order to create their version of a better world.
Having proven that politics is biased, I must state here that the Political Internet, too, is biasedbut only on the regional level, i.e. websites in support of or against an issue, and not as a whole, and not all the time.
The Triad Dialectic
As a whole, the Political Internet is multipolarit covers the broad spectrum of views on any aspect of politics: ideologies, policies, beliefs, and so on, with no inbuiltthat is, programmed, software-wisebias towards anything. The only bias arises when a consensus is formed, and it attempts to overwhelm its antithesis.
The German philosopher Georg Hegel would say that a synthesis of these conflicting views arises, and this synthesis develops an antithesis, which forms a new synthesis, ad infinitum. This process, the Triad Dialectic, results in the development of information and knowledge, directly or indirectly. As a simplified example, the conflict between the ideas of communism and capitalism has given rise to the implementation of the mixed economy, combining both ideas in varying degrees.
Because the Political Internet allows freedom of communication and information, these views can be put up on the Internet for all to see, analyse discuss, debate, and put into actionin the process developing new ideas, a synthesis of two (or more) previous ones.
These ideas, in turn, can be translated into real, tangible action: democratisation in the former Soviet Union (Mikhail Gorbachev's idea that it would lead to transparency, but ended in his country's dissolution), the whole gamut of varied gun laws in all the states of the USA (partly influenced by the local pro- and anti-gun groups), the adoption of capitalism by the Chinese (perhaps the result of an analysis of the success of capitalism to the west and failure of socialism to the north), and so on.
If nothing else, the Triad Dialectic, supplemented by the Political Internet, would give rise to even more views, information, and knowledge, creating a livelier discussion of anything at all.
In the Singapore context
So, what does all this have to do with Singapore? The Political Internet has given rise to Internet forums, web logs, and websites focusing on politics because of its inherent, untouchable freedom. It has grown so large locally that the media and the Government can no longer ignore it.
The Ministry of Information, Communications, and the Arts has already stated its stance on the Internet: people are free to post their views, but they must be responsible for their works, and it must be done in a responsible manner. Perhaps this means that the articles must be non-defamatory, free of libel and slander, and the writers open themselves to criticism and rebuttals - the Permanent Secretary of MICA, Dr. Tan Chin Nam, at least, implied that.
Going through the traditional media is also an option, but because one must go through the appropriate media organisation before one's views are aired in any kind of format, instead of just posting on the Internet, one's views might be censored, or at least filtered because the people within the media, too, have their own opinions and beliefs, and may have a purpose in doing so. There is no need to go through a third party on the Internet, thus short-circuiting the process needed to have one's views made public.
Therefore local political bloggers, commentators, and observers have every right to comment on politics in Singapore anywhere, the Internet included and especially, so long as we don't break the law. By commenting on and criticising local politics and policies, foreign media outlets could and had been sued by the Government, preventing them from commenting too bluntly on local political events, so it is up to us Singaporeans to do their job for theminstead of letting them do their job for us.
We must remember: Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to freedom of speech and expression; being a member of the United Nations, Singapore should, at the very least, adhere to this. Even if the Government does not, Article 14 of the Constitution that they have written for us guarantees our right to freedom of speech. The only true restrictions written in the law pertain to race and religion (and podcasting, and other minor, trivial details).
Fundamentally, there is nothing that prohibits us from commenting on politics but ourselves.
The Government wants an "open, inclusive society", which must include the political arena for it to be truly open and inclusiveand it must include every view, from anarchy to fascism and everything in between.
Only then can it fulfil that requirement in the political sense. The law provides us the right to do this. Our right to express our views, and by implication our political views, is written into the supreme law of the land. Government policy and the law are behind us in the Internet political community.
The Political Internet, as espoused earlier, is key to the growth of political discussion in Singapore, with its inherent freedom of communication and knowledge. This exchange of ideas and information leads to a synthesis of new ideas and knowledgeand from there, action can be taken, in this case, in the political arena. So long as we insult no one (easy enough to do) and make no unfounded statements (i.e. back up what we say with facts), we can truly comment on just about anything political in Singapore, and the Government will have no legal basis to do anything to us. It does retain the right to reply, rebuttal, and criticism, but nothing more than that, and we have the right to do the same, recreating the Triad Dialectic. Making this possible and easier is the Political Internetbut if one trusts the mainstream media, then go ahead.
The growth of the Political Internet would certainly lead to a more "open and inclusive society" where politics is concerned; certainly there has been a greater volume of political discussions and commentaries than in the past. The principle of the Triad Dialectic, as stated above, would create livelier political discourse in Singapore, and perhaps lead to political action. Interaction between the Government and the people, too, would make this happen.
All we need is the courage to speak and write.
About the author:
The writer is a seventeen-year-old Junior College pupil who specialises in philosophy, politics, social issues, spirituality and thriller writing, the last in both print and online media. He also feels he thinks too much for his own good.
Visit leounheort's blog "Words of the Lionheart" here.