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Digital Culture Wars: Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” and China’s Social Credit System

Chaos and Order

We are on the cusp of a grave risk where unscrupulous groups with various agendas are using digital technologies to wage cultural war to stamp out dissent and gain control and power. The two most prominent recent examples are Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) and China’s Social Credit System (SCS).

The following piece was prompted by work on the UDHR and Internet Governance series, for CircleID to deal with UDHR Article 27 and the role of culture, arts, and science in the life of the community. The author wants to thank Prof. Sam Lanfranco for his ongoing input and support, without which a lot of this work would not be possible.

“Make America Great Again”

In the knowledge of, and emboldened by, the successes of Surveillance Capitalist methods to manipulate human behavior and policy-making processes, Donald Trump set out to use digital technologies, in particular social media, to attempt to put himself into a position of absolute power, beyond the confines of limited presidential terms.1

Trump is the perfect example of a personality that, lacking any other moral compass, puts his own interests over all others. To achieve his goal, he is prepared to lay waste to a Nation and the whole world. In his logic, this is perfectly justified, legitimate, even inevitable as his world only knows extremes. The world is adversarial, and struggles only have winners and losers. Unlike other “wannabe” tyrants, Trump had the advantage of access to unregulated digital technologies where false news or accusations of false news did not encounter a credibility test. That enabled his rise from a failed businessman, a reality TV star, and a twice impeached US President to his current role as leader of a harmful cult.

To achieve his goal, he had to dissolve the adherence of a large group of US citizens from the existing cultural values and norms of the nation and replace them with something else. He did not replace one set of values and norms with another set. He replaced it with complete loyalty to his person. Every “Fuhrer” needs a “Volk”! He found his ideal target group in the working-class Americans that, impoverished through Reaganomics, found themself on a relentless social and economic downward slope and who had almost no knowledge or education about US history or its governance processes. Bound by mortgages, consumer debt, student loans, college fees, often one paycheck and one serious health incident away from disaster, they desperately try to hang on to what they had and to the American promise.

Americans without access to education and a job that paid a living wage are left feeling vulnerable, desperate, and forgotten. Lacking a vision of improving their situation, they turned to the past and turned against each other. They rallied around the old confederate flag, both as a symbol of resistance and as a symbol of bygone days, for a culture and economy that would give them the security and social status they craved for. Their Trumpian reality is one where the Civil War has never ended. It is one where there is no middle ground, only winners and losers.2 Trump knew that he only needed to amplify their fears and mistrusts, to whip them into an uncontrollable frenzy and chaos and, turn them in the direction he wanted.

There is where privileged and entitled Americans felt that they had too much to lose. Enjoying the ill-gotten gains of their forefathers and reaping the profits from unregulated money markets and industries, they could afford not to care about others. Their only concern is to defend their American dream and piece of the American pie. To segregate and defend themselves from those for whom the dream was beyond reach. All Trump had to do was to show himself as the protector, even amplifier, of their privileges, and they would be at his service, whatever he did. Trump found a way to present himself as the leader of the oppressed and of the oppressors.

At a visceral level, Trump understood the power of digital technologies to create and disseminate, or discredit, large amounts of information. Like Adolf Hitler used the cheap “Volksempfänger” radios to reach the masses, Trump used technology as an effective instrument disseminate his propaganda.3 He quickly sensed the power of social media and understood that when it comes to truth social media was agnostic.

In the logic of Surveillance Capitalism, social media’s concern about the truth goes only so far, to be skirted when it stands in the way of monetization. In the logic of Trump’s social media strategy, he knew that without a cultural grounding that provided checks and balances on the veracity of pronouncements, many individuals and communities would be no longer able to determine the truth. He knew he could lie without fear of retaliation, and within the lie, he could create his own subservient community. He had a plan.

Create Chaos

The first step was to create chaos and make falsehoods an acceptable political currency. All it needed was to circulate increasing amounts of misleading and alarming information directed at his target audience. “Birtherism”, the falsehood that President Obama was not born in the US and not a US citizen4, provided Trump with the proof of concept. For the falsehoods to become effective, all that had to do was to resonate with previously held believes and prejudices. Connected webs of falsehoods created ideologies like Naziism. The current strategy was and still is to elevate Trumpism to the level of an ideology. Through repetition and widespread dissemination, a falsehood eventually gains a quality of truth in that it begins to influence reality.

Trump found a ready and willing instrument to spread his falsehoods in an unregulated social media that only cared about his ability to drive traffic so they could monetize personal data. Truth in social media has no value beyond being an inconvenience. All important for them was that Trump attracted followers to their data harvester platforms.

Gain Immunity from Truth

Confused by the information chaos surrounding them, a natural self-protection mechanism kicks in. Frightened people create personal information filters that let through only information that confirms already held beliefs. Together with their fellow believers, they create information echo chambers. With each news circle, a person becomes more radicalized and immune to the challenge of inconvenient truths. Trump, after spreading the falsehoods, had nothing more to do than reassure, reaffirm, and reward those who believed in him. In so doing, he gave them a sense of pride, purpose, power, and self-confidence. He reassured them, and they loved him for it. He was their leader.

Take Over

The more Trump’s disciples drifted away from the cultural life of the nation, the more they needed and depended on his reassurance. With every new falsehood they believed, they burned more bridges behind him. For their personal wellbeing and the future of the nation, there was only one possible way forward: Trump’s “will” will be done.

The Presidential election established the fact that there were too many more citizens in the US electorate than there were Trump’s disciples. This was unacceptable for Trump and made the coup effort on the 6th of January inevitable. Democracy prevailed, but just.

Trump, his disciples, and the unregulated digital technologies and social media are still out there. Nothing really changed. There are still no checks and balances. The politicians, congress members and Senators of the GOP still fear and support him. Trump’s current strategy is to preserve his role as the gatekeeper to the votes they need for re-election. They do not fear social downgrading as a Trump acolyte. Their fear is to lose the power to be nominated for re-election. This leaves open the question of whether being a Trumpian slate Republican enhances or diminishes the candidate’s chances of getting elected.

Western Societies: The Battle over Digital technologies and the Internet

There is currently a growing battle in Western societies over who controls and how to control digital technologies and the Internet. The battle lines are drawn. On the one side, we find representatives of the digital industries, where business models required a governmental “hands-off” approach towards regulation to maximize the monetization of digital traffic and digital data. There exist elements of a symbiotic relationship with governments seeking to use digital technologies to manipulate, influence, and control their citizens. Both hide their ethical responsibility behind a “freedom of speech” definition that is free from responsibility and accountability.

On the other side, we find those representatives of the digital industries that claim that they just want to sell their digital gadgets, products, and services. They are desperate to stop a battle around responsibility and accountability because their businesses are being increasingly undermined by the growing distrust of technology users. A good example for this point of view comes from the remarks of the Apple CEO Tim Cook:5

“What are the consequences of prioritizing conspiracy theories and violent incitement simply because of the high rates of engagement? “It is long past time to stop pretending that this approach doesn’t come with a cost. A polarization of lost trust, and yes, of violence.” “A social dilemma cannot be allowed to become a social catastrophe.”

There is a third party that finds itself involuntarily involved in the conflict. Let us call it the Agnostic party of those who just want to engineer and provide the best digital technologies, infrastructures, and standards possible.

“Cancel culture”

Trump’s reaction to the rejection of his second impeachment was to immediately declare war again:

“Our historic, patriotic and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun. In the months ahead I have much to share with you, and I look forward to continuing our incredible journey together to achieve American greatness for all of our people.” 6

What can we expect and what tactics will be employed? We can glimpse from an op-ed by in the New York Post by Trump stalwart and co-conspirator Sen. Josh Hawley.7

Hawley begins by connecting the communist Chinese Social Credit system, “where government and big business monitor every citizen’s social views and statements,” with,”... the latest form of cancel culture in this country, as corporate monopolies and the left team up to shut down speech they don’t like and force their political agenda on America.”

He raises the alarm by falsely claiming oppression of the righteous and warns of more ahead:

“It will get worse. The tech titans have already booted dozens of conservatives off social media, and if they have their way, half the House Republican conference will be expelled from Congress”.

He reveals his view of the world and ethical compass by explaining that it is the corporate world that uses party politics to define democracy.

“The corporate titans seem to believe that the only way to get a democracy to their liking is to eliminate all threats to the Democratic Party’s unified control of government.”

He blames his opponents for doing exactly what is, in fact, his intention.

Hawley reminded conservatives that in the past, they overcame unwelcome people and opinions by “opting out” and sending their kids to better schools, keeping within the right circles, and voting along the lines of the self-interested conscience and not in the interest of a concern for the common good. But the good times of segregation are over, and globalization has reached the southern US. “But the left and the corporations are challenging all of this now,” Hawley continued.

“Your ‘conservative’ social platform isn’t worth much when Amazon can shut it down. Your vote may still be yours, but if your party is denied the means to effectively organize by corporate monopolies, it is not going to win. Your church, well, you can still attend for now, but go to the wrong church and you may not have a job in a few years.”

It sounds strange when a conservative is blaming “corporate monopolies and “tech titans.” Only yesterday, it was their compliance that made the rise of Trump possible. Today, when the same corporate monopolies and tech titans, suffering from the falsehoods and resulting mistrust, retreat from manipulative practices, they get attacked as weak and disloyal. Everything that is weak in the mind of Hawley needs to be replaced with “what’s right.”

The logic of Hawley leads him to the conclusion that when the digital industry can no longer be cajoled into compliance, it has outlived its usefulness and needs to be brought under the complete control and ownership of MAGA. “And if ever our political organizing were impeded by censorship—say, by the big tech giants—we could build our own platforms.”

Hawley and Trump will never be content with creating their own digital platforms and TV Channels. Their logic demands that the MAGA movement does not just to take over the White House and Capitol but every aspect of the nation’s digital technology, including its core infrastructure, resulting in an increasingly technical and ideological partitioning of digital technologies and the Internet.

Social media platforms and how they are controlled under what governance regime, is one of the many cultural battlefields on which the dominance over digital technologies and the Internet is currently fought. The Domain Name System (DNS) is another of them, as names and numbers are the foundation of the Internet and a hornet’s nest of intellectual property disputes. When numbers became names, the DNS also crossed the line and became a carrier of cultural expression and cultural life. Will the DNS be able to resist being swept up in Trumpian cultural wars? We can have reasonable doubts and worries when the law firm representing Trump is also advising ICANN.org, the organization charged with “Preserve and enhance operational stability, reliability, security, and global interoperability of the Internet.8

Let there be Order: China’s Social Credit System (SCS)

Hawley chooses China’s SCS as a prime example of cultural suppression. This is at least ironic as SCS gives us a glimpse into what we can expect if Trump or somebody else like him succeeds. In this Trumpian scenario, a political party that has won, by whatever means, strives to become the dominant culture and government and uses digital technologies to cement its control of power.

China is a large country with a multitude of ethnicities and cultures. Despite all the cultural differences, the people of China, throughout time, learned that survival meant to live together in order. The Chinese, like all people, instinctively seek unity over chaos, but with much more urgency and intensity. The central political and cultural question is how to manage that commonwealth of cultures and civilizations. The prevailing answer throughout its history was a central government which dictated the dominant and acceptable forms of cultural life and civilization.

Order needs Chaos

The emergence of the Internet presented the current incarnation of Chinese central government, the Communist Party of China (CPC), under the leadership of its General Secretary, Xi Jinping, with the enormous challenge of how to incorporate digital technologies for economic growth and development, and to preserve the power of the party. Access to a global communication network challenged its cultural and political dominance, as the party lost its monopoly on news and information. The Chinese government’s challenge was how to extend its leadership and control over its nation’s digital realm. At first, the reaction was to create a great Chinese “Digital Firewall.” It is one thing to control the technology, but what was needed was a way to control peoples’ minds. This required retooling the instruments of Surveillance Capitalism for the use in Surveillance Governance. The aim was to create adherence and compliance to a brand of government instead of to a product.

Create Trustworthy Citizens

To achieve compliance, the people had first to be convinced of the dangers that the Internet represented to order. Alarming examples of the disruptive effect of the Internet were easy to find. They just had to be disseminated to create a sense of imminent danger, which in turn created the demand on the government to provide remedies. This remedy was the massive use of surveillance technologies. But surveillance technology alone does not achieve order; it needs to be backed up by reward and punishment systems.

The SCS is a national black/whitelist. Individuals, businesses, and government functionaries are tracked and evaluated for trustworthiness, using mass surveillance systems which incorporates facial recognition system, big data analysis technology, artificial intelligence, and other tools.9

Brothers in Arms

MAGA and China’s Social Credit System Project might be motivated by different political ideologies, but they have striking similarities. Both try to enforce a fundamentally capitalist system under an essentially anti-democratic governance. Both use existing fears, amplify them, and use technologies to transform fear into desired behavior. Both are the result of the machinations of autocratic governments trying to preserve power. Both use digital technologies to identify, shame, punish and neutralize dissenters. In one key aspect, they are fundamentally different. MAGA is waging its culture war to become the dominant lead culture whilst the Chinese Communist Party has already managed to establish itself as such. MAGA is still trying to establish total control whilst the CCP is trying to defend its monopolist position.10 Whilst the ability of the CCP to reward and punish is absolute and includes everyone, MAGA’s ability to assert control is limited to its followers and its control over the Republican GOP.11 To glimpse a future in which MAGA somehow manages to become the dominant culture we only need to look at the CCP today. The CCP is where MAGA wants to be.

The CCP does not own all of China’s digital technology and infrastructure. It does not have to because it has complete national control over the private sector that owns, manufactures, runs, and operates it. As China is a key global market player, it can extend this control into other marketplaces and corporations. It is impossible for a dominant totalitarian culture to accept divergence and dissent. It will always try to find ways to replace existing realities outside its control with ones it does control. One of these examples is China’s ongoing attempt to replace the global Domain Name System (DNS) with its own standard.12

Playing into the Hand of Tyrants: From Communication and Information Exchange to Sensing and Control.

The Internet is no longer a communication system that only connects people and information. It has become the Internet of Things (IoT), where cyber/physical systems, with the help of Artificial Intelligence (AI), connect people and the multitude of devices in their homes, public spaces, and workplaces. Computers collect data and start talking to another, creating a “civilization,” a social fabric with no foundation in cultural values. In the process, the boundaries between the material and virtual worlds become blurred and often invisible, and in many cases, humans have become a “Thing” on the Internet of Things. Machines that communicate with each other already represent the majority of Internet “users” and employ a significant proportion of available digital capacity, making them and their controllers important stakeholders that factor in cyberspace governance. This transformation has even more significance than the transition from an industrial society to a digital information society. Dr. DeNardis writes:

“The most consequential global policy concerns of the present era are arising in debates over the architecture and governance of cyber-physical systems. Technology policy must be conceptualized to account for the expansion of digital technologies from communication and information exchange to material sensing and control. How technical, legal, and institutional structures evolve will have sweeping implications for civil liberties and Innovation for a generation.” (Laura DeNardis )13

Taking a Stand

Culture is fundamentally a value proposal. Humans instinctively evaluate what circumstances are best for them. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is the document that describes what we see today as the principles for an ideal state of being.

Every culture that falls far short of this ideal needs to use the means of oppression and manipulation to stay in power. This is not sustainable as there comes a point in every regime where the price of compliance becomes too high. More and more of their subjects will begin to believe that the time has come to make a stand and that the price to pay for breaking the norms and risking being subject to punishment is worth the chance of a life closer to one’s fundamental human dignity.

The final question now becomes how oppressive regimes can be overcome.

Hawley ends his op-ed with an appeal to take a stand:

“For those who still believe in free speech and the First Amendment, this is the time to take a stand.”

He is right, but in the sense of “taking a stand,” he might not approve of it.

May the Citizens take a Stand!

Some might try to escape the digital exploitation and manipulation by opting out of digital engagement, but to escape completely becomes more and more difficult and unrealistic. Many of the digital tools of manipulation and oppression count on our love of convenience, and they enticed us to give up our freedom in exchange for convenience or a cheap deal. Others track us through the ambient environment, requiring no action from us and impossible to evade. At what price, and how do we secure freedom?

As citizens with rights and responsibilities, we always have the ability to act. Part of fulfilling our responsibility as citizens is to take a stand and help by our actions to restore morals and the community’s cultural life. We can refuse to engage with the tools of oppression, and when we cannot avoid them, we can sabotage their use and their intent. We need to develop, support, and use alternatives that respect our Human Rights. It requires that we be prepared to lose some of our convenience but also to actively inform ourselves, ask questions, and engage in sometimes painful discussions. The list of what we can do in our daily lives is long and varied, but we can make a start.

What is the difference between a rioter and a digital citizen taking a stand with respect to governance? Communication, dialogue, and process make the difference! A rioter enters the US Congress with the intent that she or he wants to bring about change without the accepted processes and without the checks and balances of cultural exchange and dialogue grounded in the notions of democracy. The rioter has become its own and its society’s worst enemy. As democratic values prevailed this time, the same technology is now used to track them down and punish them but with the difference that, in their prosecution and defense, they will be afforded the cultural rights and instruments of civilization they so violently tried to deny others.

This is what we can do in a society where we have the options of alternatives where the oppression has not become complete. What about the Citizens of China?

Crossing the street during a red light can mean absent-mindedness, impatience, or, in the worst case, carelessness and a disregard for his/her own safety. It can be recorded as an SCS demerit. He/she is not making a statement that demands a change in culture, requesting everybody else in society to cross at red. If jaywalking is done as a concerted action to protest and render ineffective China’s SCS, it becomes a cultural expression in its own right. That might one day change the laws around SCS, reflecting that the masses stood up against the powers that be, powers using technology to implement their top-down, centralized imposition of social norms (and civilization) without taking people’s cultural values into account.

When a million Chinese start jaywalking in protest, they exercise their right to participate in the cultural life of their community, and this peaceful protest will have more real impact than narrow, violent attempts to force the political process, like violently trying to prevent the US Congress from exercising its duties. These kinds of actions have a long history. One well-known example of using peaceful civil disobedience to bring change is Gandhi, who used peaceful means to expel an empire that forgot its cultural life-based on human rights.

No Trumpian regime of lies, no “military victory” at Tiananmen, no denial of the ongoing suppression of other dissidents in China, like the Uighurs, changes the fact that such regimes and such repression are crimes against humanity. Crimes that will never stay unpunished and regimes that will fail in the long term because of the “inherent dignity” of all members of humanity.

May the Private Sector take a Stand!

What is the role of the private sector here? While the private sector may well fall short of falling under the UDHR and citizens’ rights and duties, it is a significant stakeholder with both legal rights and moral obligations. The private sector’s stakeholder role is more than just as a producer of goods and services and as a provider of employment and tax revenues. It is a significant player and force in society and has an obligation to take a stand on the issues of the day.

The private sector fulfills not only a commercial role but is also engaged in government policy, in its own interests and ideally in the interest of society in general. “Money talks” in the sense that citizens can “vote” for and against certain business interests with their consumer dollars and with their direct and pension fund investments. This is all-the-more-true in the digital economy where citizens still can influence the sector by their purchases, their engagement, and the terms around which their data is used. Making a conscious decision about what digital products and services we buy represents another way of voting for or against digital practices and regimes.

When elements in the private sector become unwilling to fulfill their obligations to important regulatory functions and instead engage with authoritarian governments to override and manipulate the people’s will, it is good and proper for other elements in the private sector to stand up for human rights concerns. Such actions can not only help to ensure our freedoms; those actions may well be in the interests of their long-term profit motive.

May Internet Governance take a Stand!

Internet Governance is not a faceless abstract. Like the private sector, it is executed by citizens for the benefit of citizens. This is easy to forget when there are fights over topics such as Whois access to domain name ownership data, Domain Name System (DNS) abuse, and responsibility for Internet platform integrity. Can we separate that what is separate but inseparable, Internet governance (IG), and Technical Internet Governance (TIG), without impinging on human rights? Does that keep the technology apart from the broader societal and human rights issues on the Internet Governance agenda?

We take positions for ethical and moral reasons but also when we are honest, those positions may also be determined by our pursuit of freedom from fear and want, our sources of gainful employment, and the societal privileges we expect for ourselves.

We need to learn to look over the edge of our own short-term interest, searching for real sustainability. Security and stability is not just a technical phrase; real security and stability come from rights, freedom in responsibility. Freedom in responsibility is aspirational, never perfectly realized, and must be constantly fought for, secured, and developed at every moment in time.

Turning digital technologies against humanity has been made possible by the failure to regulate their use along the lines of human rights. Policymakers in the past and today fail to question and understand the methods of how Trump was able to gain political power over a large portion of the electorate with falsehoods and by using the bully pulpit of social media to propagate Trumpism.

Governance of the Internet needs to address these issues. If not understood and dealt with, not only will nothing change, but the manipulation will increase and, in the end, threaten democracy. Out of a sense of political self-preservation, politicians supported, driven in no small part by the fear of Trump’s revenge, supported him in the aftermath of the tragedy of January 6th and beyond by refusing to impeach him. Trump may have lost direct access to social media, but he has not lost his army. It is still standing by, and through fear, he dictates the political agenda of the GOP. It does not matter that social media companies are now trying to curb the excesses of the past. The fundamental condition of digital technologies as unregulated and free from cultural checks and balances did not change.

Digital technologies are being used by evil people to do evil things, IG needs to put the checks and balances in place, guided in part by the UDHR, to make such scheming unacceptable. To do so, it needs to ensure participation and engagement of all under common human rights-based values, culture and civilization. Disenfranchisement and disappointing circumstances lead to despair, and the Trumps of this world are only too eager to exploit it, and to exploit it to attract followers, not to expand meaningful civil engagement.

Internet Governance should also “think big” and “out of the box.” We have not even started to imagine and explore the opportunities digital technologies have to create real engagement in building a decent future for all in a decent society.

Taking our Bearings

The Preamble of the UDHR reminds us what these fundamental truths and values are. From the “inherent dignity of all members of the human race,” we derive our fundamental rights and freedoms. “Freedom from fear and want, is still “the highest aspiration of the common people.” A “common understanding of these rights and freedoms”, is necessary to achieve the goal, and “every individual and organ of society shall strive by” this common standard.14

If we forget this common standard, the drafters of the UDHR tell us that “disregard and contempt….outraged the conscience of mankind” and requires the rule of law so that “the people are not compelled to rebellion.” The events of January 6th have shown disregard and contempt for the truth can, and for one’s followers, can be used to manipulated followers into rebellion.

The drafters of the UDHR had a positive view of knowledge and technology as tools for human advancement. The digital venue and DNS system are great achievements of society. They should nurture culture and wellbeing and not be used for culture wars that restrict and pervert culture. Its governance needs to concern itself with human rights values, as a civilization without a human rights-based culture is both tragic and worthless.

There always needs to be a balance between regulation and acceptable social norms on the one side and “laissez-faire” and individual freedom on the other side. Periodically we need to take a deep breath and recalibrate our compass needles to the basic principles of our human rights as we build and adjust our systems of governance and review and modify our social norms. To not do so is a certain path to authoritarian control and a compromise with all the UDHR principles we hold dear.

Knowing the right direction does not mean that we know the arrival point. It does not say that the way will be easy, safe, and without detours, but it gives us what we need most, a foundation and reason to hope for a better future. Knowing the right direction is what gives us hope.

There are two simple steps we can take here and now:

  1. Making the principles embedded in our human rights integral to our understanding of digital citizenship and to our engagement in internet governance policy making and policy-making bodies.
  2. Maintaining those principles as navigational aids as we take our bearing and before we act to implement governance and refine our social norms.

The flip side of digital opportunities is the use of technologies by those scrupulous enough to seek authoritarian power to create their own “trustworthy citizenship.” All we can do to help to prevent tyranny is to let fundamental human rights guide our words and deeds at all levels all the time. It will take courage, and at times it might be inconvenient and costly, but it makes us human.

While we cannot expect things to change quickly, we can monitor the direction of change and the adherence to the principles behind the UDHR. With every decision made for the right reasons, and with each act of lived responsible citizenship, we come one step closer to our goal, to: “promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.”

There is a general tendency for the US press and media to review the actions of a new President after 100 days in office. Given the complexity of the issues here and the pressing need for attention to the Covid-19 pandemic, that period is too short to evaluate efforts by the Presidential Administration installed at the start of 2021. It will be interesting and telling to come back in one year, at the start of 2022, and see how these issues play out in the run-up to the Fall 2022 Congressional elections. With respect to the perverse uses of social media by Trumpian-like forces, the Fall of 2022 will also be a key milestone in assessing how the US government, the private sector and society have addressed the bad culture war practices that permeated the previous Presidential election campaign, as the country prepares for the run-up to the 2024 Presidential election.

By Klaus Stoll, Digital Citizen

Klaus has over 30 years’ practical experience in Internet governance and implementing ICTs for development and capacity building globally. He is a regular organizer and speaker at events, advisor to private, governmental and civil society organizations, lecturer, blogger and author of publications centering empowered digital citizenship, digital dignity and integrity.

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My views to improve your great text Jaro Berce  –  Apr 1, 2021 2:53 PM

In this “Culture Wars” article you write: “…try[ing] to enforce a fundamentally capitalist system under an essentially anti-democratic governance….use existing fears, amplify them, and use technologies to transform fear into desired behavior” which describes Trumpism (…also Russian Putinism, Slovenian Jansizem, and Hungarian Orbanism, or ....). There exists a common term that describes such evolving politics: Nazism, and the path to Fascism. It was seen 90 years ago in Italy and Germany. Your wording seems much softer and less endangering to the reader. There is a crucial question we will soon have to answer. How is democracy to function as a battle ground in the face of such forces, a test bed for them and where are we aiming to go?

Your “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is the document that describes what we see today as the principles for an ideal state of being. Every culture that falls far short of this ideal needs to use the means of oppression and manipulation to stay in power” is great starting point for the steps we should follow. The basic steps to return to so called “governance as normal” needs to do better to protect against such means of oppression. We also need to protect against forgetting that we are part of Nature, and that our behavior is destroying a big part of it – including humanity! We must add the important part that is missed in Abraham’s religions (not others) and elsewhere. If we want survival as a species, and as a living planet, we must protect All Living Creatures and the integrity of Nature as a whole.

Your discussion aimed at three societal systems (U.S. individualism and China’s collectivism); economic and political systems (democracy, capitalism and governance); and technological systems (Internet, AI, IoT, etc.). It overlooks a fourth perspective, a holistic approach that brings in “all players” for sustaining life. Protecting this fourth system, the natural ecosystem, is obvious and should be included when looking what is the next step!

You write that: “As citizens with rights and responsibilities we always have the ability to act”. However, we are subject to “brain washing machines” starting with schooling, media, religions, social media (technology), political groups and more. This dulls our “ability to act” from the beginning and throughout our life spans. How to change this to give people more possibilities for their free thoughts? How do we motivate people to act freely within ethical bounds? How do we overcome too little engagement as social animals, as all our fears, angry, aggression block society’s ability to thrive?

At the end of your very interesting piece there is an issue that should be more explored. You start with a very broaden descriptions of the current situation – which is great – but in the conclusion you stress mainly Digital Governance, which is only a small part of the whole Governance challenge. You are losing an opportunity to expand on our “ability to act” as engaged stakeholders. This weakens the impact of the article and I hope you develop that vein more fully as you go forward. You should also include a more holistic, or “out of the box” vision in the next step(s). We must change the system that feeds these cultural wars, a system where digital Surveillance Capitalism has been joined by malignant social media, and now risks destroying us! We must reimagine what is possible and what should stand as the Vision of humanity on this unique Planet, and beyond. The system we live now lacks human rights integrity, attention to all living beings - Nature and is thus not sustainable.

Thank You! Klaus Stoll  –  Apr 2, 2021 1:32 PM

Dear Jaro Berce
Thank you very much much for your very valuable obeservation. I will not honor them by discussing them one by one here, given the limited space,  but will try to do one better by incorporating them into revised versions of the article and our thinking about the role of Human Rights in IG as a whole.
As our work on the UDHR in IG is a collaborative efford anyway, please feel free to submit an article to CircleId or suggest content paragraphs to be incorporated into the article or the UDHR series.

Thanks again.



Dear Klaus Stoll,the pleasure was al mine Jaro Berce  –  Apr 2, 2021 2:43 PM

Dear Klaus Stoll, the pleasure was al mine to give some feedback (a bit provoked by Sam when I commented him) to your very interesting thoughts in the article. If it helped I'm more than happy. All the best jaro.

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