August 2017 Newsletter: Liu Xiaobo, Cuba, and The Invasive Other
IN MEMORIAM: LIU XIAOBO
China’s most famous activist, Nobel laureate, and Social Research author, Liu Xiaobo has died of liver cancer at age 61. His death, confirmed on July 13 by Chinese authorities in Shenyang province, comes two weeks after Chinese officials announced he was being moved to a hospital for treatment. In 2008, along with other dissidents, Liu drafted Charter 08, a document that called on the Chinese state to change its character and abandon one-party rule. Soon after he was tried for subversion. He was convicted in 2009 for writing seven sentences, a total of 224 Chinese characters. He was given an 11-year sentence.
On June 26, 2017, after serving more than seven years of his sentence, the prison holding Liu announced that he was being transferred to a nearby hospital to be treated for late-stage liver cancer—the same disease that killed his father.
“A calm and steady mind can look at a steel gate and see a road to freedom,” Liu once wrote of life as a prisoner. He insisted that love could dissipate hate, and that progress would be made. No Enemies, No Hatred, a selection of his essays and poems, was published in 2013.
Endangered Scholars Worldwide (ESW) holds the Chinese government responsible for his death. It imprisoned him unjustly and withheld proper medical treatment until his cancer was too advanced to treat, only then releasing him on medical parole. And at the end, it spurned international appeals to allow him to go abroad to get treatment. ESW joins with many others around the world who mourn his death and continue to work for the universal upholding of the values and freedoms he lived for. Liu Xiaobo's life and death should serve as a poignant reminder that freedom has a price.
CUBA: LOOKING TOWARD THE FUTURE
Cuba: Looking Toward the Future, Vol 84 No. 2 guest-edited by William LeoGrande, aims to explore in depth various aspects of Cuba’s internal evolution and how they affect Cuba’s position globally. Professor of government at American University and the author of five books on US-Latin American relations, LeoGrande has also served as an adviser to many government and private sector agencies, and on the Council on Foreign Relations.
Following the tradition of our Transitions series of which this is the 20th installment, the forthcoming issue of Social Research examines the recent situation of Cuba from perspectives spanning the economic, social, and political, in papers authored by scholars from within and outside Cuba.
Katrin Hansing considers the role of race in social inequality, a crucial but too-often overlooked aspect of Cuban society which is rapidly changing since the fall of the Soviet Union; Ted Henken describes technology and Internet use on the island, and the creative ways a new generation has found to work around censorship; Carlos Oliva Campos and Gary Prevost argue that Cuba’s improving relations with Latin America played a key role in convincing the Obama administration to open its own relations with Cuba. Yet while the territory covered in the issue is broad, one sentiment is ubiquitous: that the future cannot be predicted. In his article on the role of intellectuals in Cuban society and politics, Rafael Hernandez concludes that “probably no intellectual or observer of the current Cuban reality… could effectively draw a sketch of how the social and political model will look in 10 years’ time.”
Illustrating this point is US President Donald Trump’s announcement in June of this year of plans to reverse President Obama’s warming of relations with Cuba. As US-Cuban relations continue to evolve, they remain important to consider. And as William LeoGrande writes in his introduction, “while the articles in this special issue cannot foretell the future, they point us to the essential dynamics that will shape that future for Cuba, both at home and abroad.”
Russia’s alleged efforts to skew the US electoral outcome of 2016 have dominated the news cycle for much of Donald Trump’s infant presidency. But how did we get here? To begin to understand the story, we have to look back at the 1990s and into the world of a rising internet and the collapse of a central control—a “world without sovereignty, a world of no government,” as Agnes Callamard writes in the Spring 2017 issue of Social Research, Vol. 84 No. 1, The Invasive Other. “In that new world (with the advent of the internet), ideas were to flow unhindered, largely uncontrolled except by the working of the technology. These were internet “genesis” claims, hyperbolic but not entirely beyond the realm of reality.” In the new world, conceptions of freedom gained greater emphasis than notions of control. Everything else—regulation, censorship, and control of ideas—was conceived as the collateral “damage” of technological development, Callamard continues. In the early days of the internet, political authorities and institutions—the traditional instruments of censorship—remained off limits.
Cut to 2017, and social media platforms on the Internet have coalesced into giant hegemonic corporations. Today, Google and Facebook—hailed as harbingers of a new revolutionary technology—have both been slapped with massive fines by the European Union for violating antitrust laws. Jacob Silverman, in his article “Privacy Under Surveillance Capitalism,” invokes a prophetic 1982 report published by the National Science Foundation that foresaw information-service technologies with the ability to simultaneously “bring a greatly increased flow of information and services into the home” and “carry a stream of information out of the home about the preferences and behavior of its occupants.” In the end, Silverman writes, “digitization, automation, and the parsing of the world through algorithmic systems allow for the swift movement of information and capital. They may even advance a kind of efficiency. But this all proceeds according to an inhumane market logic that elides complexity and, in the name of individual freedom, actually stifles personal privacy and autonomy.”
Unsurprisingly, this continuous flow of information and its interception has led to a new world wrapped in cybersecurity debates. It will take years of investigations before we have a clear answer on Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 election, but for now, as Dominic Pettman suggests, we have to remain vigilant about the vectors of technology as “themselves constituting forms of invasion—into our mental space, into our social lives, into our domestic places and routines.”
- Roshni Majumdar