Free Speech (American or Otherwise) Will Win
"American influence" is the great white whale of the 21st century, and Jacques Chirac is the Ahab chasing her with a three-masted schooner. Along for the ride is a crew that includes Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, Vladimir Putin, North Korea's Kim Jong-Il, Kofi Annan, the Saudi royal family, Robert Mugabe, the state committee of Communist China and various others who have ordained themselves leaders for life. At night, seated around the rum keg, they talk about how they have to stop American political power, the Marines or Hollywood.
The world is lucky these despots and demagogues are breaking their harpoons on this hopeless quest. Because all around them their own populations are grabbing the one American export no one can stop: raw technology. Communications technologies, most of them developed in American laboratories (often by engineers who voted for John Kerry), have finally begun to effect an historic shift in the relationship between governments and the governed. The governed are starting to win.
Until recently, one-party or no-party governments had a standing list of answers for people with a different notion: a) we don't care what you think; b) shut up; c) we kill you. There's no sure cure for c, but Plans a and b are becoming obsolete.
Their problem--and the promise here--is that this stuff is moving the world's people, and fast, toward the one American product that governing elites really need to fear: free speech. Some at the Berkman conference worried this still isn't enough to "change things." Jeff Jarvis, one of this movement's most intelligent thinkers set them straight: "This is not about causes or organizing people. It's about us creating these tools and then simply having faith in people who use them elsewhere to do good."
From the perspective of a Nokia smart phone-carrying Open Source software developer, he's probably over-crediting both
American technologists and recent assaults on free speech in the U.S.) These are interesting times that we live in, and I've been forced to rethink some of my long-held beliefs, but free speech is more important than ever. In the ongoing battle to protect and spread free speech, there will be casualties of both the
b) shut up
c) we kill you
variety, but don't despair: we will win.