Within the margins of human behavior, how is it possible for our hunger for self-awareness to coexist with our penchant for abandoning empathy and basic compassion? History’s most exquisite brains have combed the mines of knowledge and speculation in order to pilfer as much truth about ourselves as can be swallowed by mortal minds, yet in doing so they have occasionally stomped upon our collective dignity by treating the subjects of their study as though they belonged to an unrelated sub-species.
Ota Benga was just a dude. Had the trajectory of his existence not been marred by western interference, he might have lived a blasé life of hunting, storytelling and raising a family. Instead he was plucked from the lush, equatorial forests of his youth and made a slave, a sideshow wonder, and a zoological exhibit for slack-jawed tourists.
Most of the injustices thrust upon Ota’s arc were done with the false pretense of anthropological education, cloaked in evolutionary flim-flammery and racist eugenics. But what did we learn, apart from humankind’s tragically vast tolerance for our own assholishness?
A member of the Mbuti tribe in what was then called the Belgian Congo, Ota Benga’s life was first derailed by Belgium’s King Leopold II around the turn of the 20th century. Leopold had dispatched the Force Publique, a heavily-armed militia aimed at reminding the Congolese natives that they’d best remain devoted to producing rubber for Belgium’s financial gain. Ota was out on a hunt when the armed men showed up and murdered his wife and two children. When he returned to his village, he was captured as a slave. Read more…
There are a few moments in my life that I wish could be collectively forgotten by all who had witnessed them. Throwing up in my high school parking lot after downing a half-bottle of Southern Comfort at 1:00 in the afternoon. Shooting that spitball in the sixth grade that missed my target and thwacked my teacher in the face. Accepting that dare to chug back a large KFC gravy like it was Gatorade.
But those are the curses strung like sooty leis around the neck of my conscience – the snarky memories that promise to surge into my brain at unwanted moments, when I’m otherwise feeling good and groovy. We’ve all got them, and some are even more awful to imagine than the gravy thing. The question I’m asking today is how much are we legally allowed to wipe from the societal record?
The “Right To Be Forgotten” sounds like a foray into self-imposed hermitism, of declaring one’s intention to leave the grid and skitter out of civilization’s crosshairs. And while that can play into it, the right to be forgotten is a far less dramatic and demanding concept, yet nearly as tricky to achieve. What about simply yanking something off the record? Booting the search engine results that conceal that most jagged bone of the skeleton in your closet? It’s not so simple.
The European Union addressed this issue early in the internet age, adopting something called the European Data Protection Directive in 1995. This is a lengthy bill, full of rollicking puns and nineteen colorful applications of the word “fuck-bucket”. Actually, I haven’t read the thing, but I’m sure it’s a laugh riot from start to finish. It sketches out that fine twisted squiggle between privacy and transparency, offering a legitimized perspective of where human rights trump the right to knowledge. And if you’re someone who’d like to keep a little nugget of your past quiet, it’s a really good thing. Read more…
You may not have noticed, but while the Chinese economy is poised to plant its conquering flag upon the global marketplace, the country’s government is astoundingly fucked up. Fucked up and frightened, gauging by the unfathomable swath of censorship that it clings to. What other explanation can there be for the most populated nation on the planet blocking out such a hearty heap of online material?
I suppose when you’ve got a population of over 1.35 billion you probably want to do what you can to keep them from getting any fishy ideas that might propel them into revolt. I don’t care how disciplined your army might be, a billion pissed-off citizens is going to be tough to quiet down. We saw that twenty-five years ago when students rolled the dice and staged a massive public protest for democracy in Tiananmen Square. The government shut them down and since then it has spent a quarter-century trying to convince its citizens that the whole thing never happened.
This is the golden age of knowledge, when a strategic click of a mouse can teach us anything, from alternative political structures to who played the night-watchman on that season 4 episode of Simon & Simon (it was Bucklind Beery – there, I saved you the trouble). But knowledge is power, and clearly the Chinese government doesn’t want its citizenry getting all power-happy.
Let’s have a look at what won’t squeak through the Chinese knowledge-net.
My site, for starters. I’ve been told the blockade on WordPress has been lifted somewhat over the last year or so, but blogs contain ideas, and ideas are even more dangerous than facts because ideas can procreate. They can seduce one another and spurt out little notion-babies. Evidently the current regime isn’t wanting that to happen. You’ll also find Blogspot, FC2 (a Japanese blog site) and wretch.cc, which is based out of Taiwan, on the blocked list. Read more…