In the latest post published on his personal blog, Edward Snowden dedicates an entire thought process to the concept of freedom, and goes so far as to speculate that China is becoming increasingly similar to the US in this respect, and vice versa.
It is my belief that market forces, democratic decline, and a toxic obsession with “national security”—a euphemism for state supremacy—are drawing the US and China to meet in the middle: a common extreme.https://t.co/QjsIQ1PXYn
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) November 10, 2021
Edward Snowden and Ai Wei-Wei, China and the US in comparison
The occasion is his comment on the book “1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows” by the Chinese dissident Ai Wei-Wei.
Snowden says he is surprised to have found in that book, written by a Chinese, much of his own history, the history of his country (the US), particularly since his life was very different from that of Ai Wei-Wei.
It is curious how similar the accounts of both his time and his life could be to Snowden, despite the huge differences.
The point of contact is probably the Chinese dissident’s thinking, in particular when he talks about the pressure to conform, as a result of which everyone would sink into an ideological swamp of “criticism” and “self-criticism”.
Snowden says that in the past, while studying the Chinese initiative to tame the Internet by creating a kind of Chinese web, he often came across reports that the US government was building a similar infrastructure, using similar justifications such as counter-terrorism and fighting disinformation.
While clearly stating that these are two different worlds, Snowden writes:
“Market forces, democratic decline, and a toxic obsession with “national security”—a euphemism for state supremacy—are drawing the US and China to meet in the middle: a common extreme. A consensus-challenging internet is perceived by both governments as a threat to central authority, and the pervasive surveillance and speech restrictions they’ve begun to mutually embrace will produce an authoritarian center of gravity that over time will compress every aspect of individual and national political differences until little distance remains”.
He then quotes an emblematic sentence from Ai Wei-Wei’s book:
“Freedom is not a goal, but a direction”.
Snowden, the internet and freedom
Snowden has always been a strong supporter of freedom and has paid a high personal price for it. The similarities he perceives between the behaviour of the US and Chinese governments are not at all absurd or far-fetched.
The Internet was indeed born from a US government project (Arpanet), but at some point in its history, its basic protocols were in fact donated to the whole of humanity, which can now use them freely in theory without any restrictions. However, many states impose (or want to impose) restrictions on the use of the Internet, and in particular on the web and certain apps.
One wonders whether Bitcoin and decentralized cryptocurrencies will be able to teach the advocates of authoritarianism a harsh lesson, namely that citizens want freedom, and are willing to prefer currencies not backed by states instead of giving up full freedom to use their money.