Thursday, December 11, 2008

National Security vs. Personal Liberty

Before talking about the tension between security and liberty, I think we need to clarify it is national security against personal liberty. National security is different from personal sense of security. America is supposed to be the most secured country with its most advanced weapons, but since 911 its national security is facing great challenge. When I came to America, however, I still feel more secured than I was in China; at least there aren’t that many thieves! Personal liberty more refers to the rights individuals have, and Americans are supposed to have the most rights of liberty.

I have read a series of books written by a Chinese couple who came to America for many years. Their books about American politics, laws and history are very popular in China, just like a window for Chinese to know what America is. Using tons of examples in American history, the books continually talk about the tension between national security and personal liberty, which is not an issue just started but definitely outshined since 911. I’m very much influenced by their books, which shape most of my view of America. As I said before, US is a human experiment, including the test on how many rights individuals should have while not interfering national security, and how to prevent government from using the name of national security to steal rights from its people.

I and my friend ever talked about the Internet censorship between China and America. China might be the most severe Internet censored country. I personally experienced a lot, such as we couldn’t check Wikipedia, my blogs being deleted the second day after publishing, and very interestingly, my friends in China couldn’t see what I wrote on this Blogspot. But my friend also mentioned that you know there’s Internet censorship in China, while you don’t know there’s also censorship in America. You don’t feel it, but “the big brother is looking at you” anonymously. In this sense, who has more liberty? I don’t know.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

V for Vendetta

The script for the film is so well written that makes me want to quote on and on. The most famous anti-authoritarian saying is “people should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.” Ironically, it’s in huge contrast to what happened in reality. At the end, V sacrifices his personal life, as he believes “beneath this mask there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea… And ideas are bulletproof.” Thus it doesn’t matter whether he would die or not, since his idea has already spread to everyone.

However, no matter how inspiring those sentences sound to be, I still keep my suspicion for such character like V. I would rather think revolution is just a temporary illusion, and I never agree with the means to use violence to anti-violence in the name of revolution. In the introduction of V himself, he explains “the only verdict is vengeance, a vendetta...held as a votive not in vain, for the value and veracity of such...shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous.” But is revenge the only thing we could do? Should we sacrifice some people’s lives in order to exchange for “the happiness of majority,” or could we?

Evey actually has her doubts for V. In their conversation, she raises the question.
E-You really think blowing up Parliament's going to make this country a better place?
V-There's no certainty, only opportunity.
Well, there are so many opportunities come and go. Every time the revolution is supposed to liberate all human beings, but at the end, it’s just a switch to another dictatorship. V criticizes the dictator as “he promised you order, he promised you peace and all he demanded in return was your silent, obedient consent.” But who knows after the revolution there won’t be another dictator just like that?

At least, that’s the cycle happened in Chinese history over thousands of years, and we still haven’t get out of it. I’d like to quote from someone said in the documentary of “Tiananmen”: “In the past century or so, the Chinese people have shed blood time and again, without losing the courage to fight for their ideals. Each battle, however, has ended in a new tragedy, another shattered dream. I believe that what the Chinese lack are not ideals, but the means through which to realize them; not courage, but the wisdom necessary to achieve their goal. What the Chinese lack is not a heart, but a mind.”

“The strength comes from united, and the united comes from belief.” V usually likes to draw a huge V on this government slogan, so as to show he’s against it. But if think again, V actually practices the same idea as the government, when we see thousands of people march to the government building under V’s masks.

Again back to what happened in 1989, China. During that time, some people shouted, “down with Li Peng.” Such a slogan was exactly what people used in the Cultural Revolution. It is still the same tactic the Party used when they tried to accuse a person. Students tried to oppose the government’s misbehavior, but they ended up just like them, because they were educated by the same ideology from the government.

So the real question is what would happen after the revolution? The explosion could be seen as a carnival, but it doesn’t bring anything. People have to back to their normal life. Then who should bring back the order, and what kind of order? The film ends there, but the real life has to go on.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Brave New World vs. 1984

When I knew Huxley was a student of George Orwell, I began to have more interested in the book of “Brave New World,” but I found Huxley and Orwell actually described two very different worlds, though they were both anti-authoritarian. Since I read “1984” during last summer, the comparison between these two books is more attractive to me.

“Social critic Neil Postman contrasts the worlds of 1984 and Brave New World in the foreword of his 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death. He writes:
What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions." In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we desire will ruin us.”

For me, “1984” is not only a fiction, but an ironic version of the reality. Many things in the book are not only imagination, but truly happened and still happening in the world, which is the point why I was kind of terrified by the book, because I could relate to my real life. Books being banned, information against authority being deleted, truth being covered or revised, fear dominated in any invisible ways… As long as authoritarian society exists, all these characters are real, no matter in 1984 or 2084.

Comparatively, “Brave New World” seems more out of reach, at least it still sounds like a fiction, and many things in the book are still beyond imagination. But the interesting thing is, when thinking about the overwhelming information we have today, the preference of popular entertainment rather than reading or thinking, our desires more and more getting out of control of traditional morality, I’m not sure the world Huxley described would never happen in the future.