Minding the Borderlands

Mark Koester (@markwkoester) on the art of travel and technology

Mapping Our Place in the Virtual World: Pt. 1. Universal and Planetary Human Right to Freedom of Internet Speech

I’m still trying to understand my place and what I should be doing in the virtual world. It isn’t so much that the virtual world represents a virtual reality in the sense of an artificial, inhuman, or robotic alienation or even that the internet is a place beyond graspable or comprehensible size (As I show in a later blog, the size of the internet is daunting!). For me, the internet, in spite of the technological divisions, is still a humanly inhabited and communicative world. Human bodies and their epistemological and pragmatic actions are all over this inter-webbing of the human virtual community. And these sharing actions of different people’s world and realities, I think, are actually making us more aware of things and as such starting to make the “real” world more just and more ethical.

The internet, if properly used, handled, and filtered across peoples, spaces and times, allows new voices to be heard. These voices carry difficult-to-hear stories of a world not yet perfect, not yet without unnecessary suffering. We as global listeners, in spite of our physical separations, are connecting with the very uniqueness, singularity and truth of these oh so diverse, oh so almost broken, oh so human voices.

If the entire world becomes connected to the internet in streaming video and personal commentaries, injustices at the “very ends of the earth” become impossible to hide and more difficult to turn a blind eye on. One of the more shocking recent events was when during recent civil unrest and public manifestations in Bhutan the internet was blocked. It was said that no information got in or out of the Bhutan via the internet. Something was being hiding. With the internet as a mode to bring light to all actions, hiding something already borders on endangering human rights. Is it not time to say that every human being no matter where he or she lives in the world has the universal right to communicate with the global, internet community?

Blocking the internet lets governments hide and governments that hide are probably already guilty of something. Governments that hide or distort information are potentially dangerous, because these governments are hiding things they know the world would not like and equally things they themselves know on some core level aren’t right either. (The US is no exception. Take, for example, the “lost” footage of detainees in U.S. Terrorist Prisons. What were you guys hiding? Because we “want the truth”! Even if it is hard to handle.)

Every country needs to be respected for its unique cultural and political traditions. We must do our best respect each culture’s and each country’s “way of doing things.” But we have to have limits to that cultural respect, because humanly certain ethical actions (and all actions by their engagement in human institutions are inherently ethical by relation) step across what is right. I can’t describe easily this ethical line of moral disgust toward injustices, but it’s something human and we find this humanness or call to our human-ity by attempting to listen to, to “know” and to “understand” the Other in their place in the world.

This is no easy or simple task. But the internet helps make this possible, because doors are opened and what was hidden in guilty can now be exposed to the communal and collective regard, such that the unjust can be recognized as it is. As society advances and changes, we must recognize a new, universal human right that all people have the right to be share and exchange their message and their singular truth to the global, virtual community.

[Immediately, these words strike me as hopeful and optimistic, but I can’t help but fall into a kind of new tension between the freedom of internet speech and occasional need to censure certain voices that threaten and attempt to dismantle and destroy others.]