The celebration of the Arab Spring is built on faith in the redemptive ability of enhanced communications technologies to create a transparent global culture. To the true believers on the New York Times editorial page, it is axiomatic that cultural revolutions driven by communications technologies will be liberal. That anything which breaks down barriers must be liberal.
This Twitter-centric narrative assumes that social media is ushering in a new age of progressive people power. But that's hardly the case.
The successful revolutions of the Arab Spring have brought down secular governments and are in the process of replacing them with Islamist or military dictatorships. And a prime mover behind them is Al-Jazeera, a global news channel run out of the territory of an absolute monarchy. The Twitter activists have already been left behind. The power remains in the hands of those who had it all along. Whether it's the Egyptian military which forced Mubarak to resign or the defectors from the Libyan government who have achieved international recognition, power is built on power. Not on Twitter.
Even Wikileaks, which seemed to usher in a new informational world order, had its scoops distributed through the dead tree vector of 150 year old newspapers. Newspapers which took the material and turned on its distributor anyway. The world did not change dramatically for it. Diplomatic cables had been leaked before, just not on this scale. But unlike the Zimmerman Telegram, nothing in Wikileaks started a war. Which means that a single leaked diplomatic cable from 1917 was more devastating than all of Wikileaks.
The acceleration of information distribution and the expanded social organizing toolset of the internet are not elementally liberalizing. Rather they are empowering. And like all tools, they empower those who use them effectively and aggressively.
The United States is hobbled competitively in the fight by its own faith in technocracy. When Hillary Clinton wonders why America doesn't have anything as effective Al-Jazeera, the answer is simple. It's because Al-Jazeera pursues a clear and definite agenda. The United States has no agenda anymore except to win friends and influence people. And that's not an agenda, it's a strategy. But to the technocrats gaining influence is an end in and of itself. And they can't gain that influence when they don't know what they want to do with it.
The Obama administration is more clueless when it comes to national interests than any previous administration. Which is why it's incapable of influencing anyone. While Russia and China know what they want and set out to get it-- American diplomats turn into philosophers of futurism lecturing on the wonderful new transparent world, as if that were their objective. And indeed it is. But that isn't a national objective, it's a philosophical preference.
Liberalism has supplanted the national interest and American diplomats still think that the same technologies which disrupted the national consensus on values will do the same thing worldwide. And they are as right as they are wrong. Because it isn't the communications tools themselves that did it, but their monopolization in the hands of a liberal elite. But outside the United States and Europe, there is no liberal elite to monopolize communications. Instead the monopoly rests in the hands of totalitarian governments and fanatical ideologies who are just as keen to force their way of life on the rest of the world.
It is just as easy to distribute a lie, as the truth. Any social grouping is limited by its own biases. And a dictatorship may as easily employ social media to crush dissenters, so long as it has plenty of loyal followers. Technologically is a tool, not a destiny.
The technocracy of Western foreign policy experts neatly blinds them to reality. That is why the fake blog, A Gay Girl in Damascus, was so effective at playing into the false linkage between technology and revolution, between political instability and reform, that dominates their view of the world. A dominance that is entrenched by their misreading of their own recent history as being progressive, rather than a revived feudalism under a socialist red flag.
Progressive liberalization as the political destiny of states confronted with modern technology is an idea that should have died a decade ago during the first techno-adrenaline rush of the internet, when it was clear that this was simply not happening. Since then the global village has filled up with dictatorships ruling over populations that have internet cafes and 3G phones. But the Arab Spring has played too neatly into the globalist package sold by the experts. It finally delivers what they were promising all along, liberalization through globalization, the metal and silicon hand of technology coming down on the liberal side of history.
Global Communication is indeed changing the world, but not necessarily for the better. Or the freer. It is easier than ever to be heard, but harder than ever to be listened to. Accessibility is still bounded by gatekeepers. And as Wikileaks demonstrated, the identity of the gatekeepers hasn't changed all that much. It's easy to put a message out there, but the sheer volume of messages reduces communications to a garble of noise. Web 2.0 used social media to filter and index the messages, turning everyone into a participant in the cultural wars.
The Brave New Digital World is just as welcoming of Islamists as of rationalists. The vast amounts of information are not a barrier to medieval fanatics, instead the information becomes an ocean from which everyone may draw whatever information suits them and use it to populate their own ecosystem of ideas. Each faction carries on its cultural war for dominance in a world that has no more boundaries and against a West that no longer believes in anything except being fairminded.
Where Islamists use technology as a means to bring about their preferred social and political order, the Western liberals who are the most enthusiastic believers in transparency through technocracy want it to bring about some form of global consensus. Which it will, just not one that allows them to keep their heads.
The defect is not in their intelligence, but in their analysis of history as a force sweeping their way. That messianic view has characterized the left all along and given it a sense of destiny. But the analysis was always a bad one. The historical analysis depended on a cycle of revolutions liberating new groups of oppressed peoples to eventually create an absolute equality. But revolutions are just as likely to lead to tyranny as to freedom. A principle that the left's own revolutions have shown to be true.
Western liberalization was driven less by population revolution and more by economic prosperity. But in countries where prosperity is limited to those at the top, revolutions revert to the feudal, Communists and radical socialists become a new feudal nobility. Or in the Middle East, Islamists. Technology cannot lead to universal participation in nations without universal literacy. And even universal participation does not overcome the disparity of power. Nothing truly does.
The romance of the technocracy reassures liberals of the inevitable historical destiny of their cause. Which is why they ignore all contradictory trends. Their willingness to see global culture as a destiny and a destination, rather than a battlefield, sustains the myth and makes the defeat of human rights around the world seem like a victory. Even the cultural expansionism of the Muslim Brotherhood is seen as a positive thing if it leads to a global culture.
In championing technocracy over national interest, they have become just as agenda agnostic as the technologies that make the global cultural battlefield possible. By embracing a post-American world, they have opened the door to a global cultural war, rather than the global cultural order that they have envisioned.