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朱萧发:误读《1984》的人啊,你们终有一天会爱上“老大哥”

2018-07-12 08:02:27

在中学时期,早熟的青年乔治•奥威尔面对一帮聚众闹事的熊孩子,保护了失明而佝偻的阿道司•赫胥黎,那一幕恰好构成了今天自由派斗争的缩影。米努•丁肖在为历史学家斯蒂文•朗西曼(朗西曼与奥威尔是伊顿公学的同窗,赫胥黎是他们的法语老师)撰写的传记中写道:“这是一幅奇巧的图景,《1984》的创作者像坚盾般守护着《美丽新世界》的预言家。”

如今,在经历了英国脱欧、特朗普得势、剑桥分析公司丑闻等事件之后,西方评论家时常用这个场景来借喻个人自由主义价值观面对被蛊惑的愚昧群氓,正在蒙受怎样的打击。但诚如丁肖所言,“也许,它看起来太过奇巧。”

在报道剑桥分析公司的丑闻时,英国《观察家报》多次娴熟地使用“反乌托邦”(dystopia)这个词语来形容逐渐水落石出的案情。然而正如丁肖有理由质疑朗西曼目击事件的真实性,我们也必须审慎看待关于剑桥分析的所有新闻报道背后的假设。这件事真的可以称作“反乌托邦”吗?即便可以,“反乌托邦”又有什么不对吗?

要了解西方,就必须了解“反乌托邦”对西方人意味着什么。可以说,阿道司•赫胥黎的《美丽新世界》和乔治•奥威尔的《1984》是“反乌托邦”文学领域两部最伟大且最具先见之明的著作。这两部小说清晰地表达了现代自由主义的欲望和不满,通过起伏的情节中它们传递了一种核心的焦虑感:我们能否既保证个人自由永远焕发革命性的荣光,又不放弃秩序和安全——哪怕现实似乎告诉我们,唯有权力和层级制度才是后两者的保障?读过现代史的人会很自然地认为,个人自由与社会秩序好比鱼与熊掌不可兼得。

《美丽新世界》和《1984》

在《美丽新世界》中,世界国通过强制洗脑宣传和建立在基因工程之上的种姓制度,创造出无穷无尽的消费,并由此获得了和平与安全,但却是牺牲了自由。与人类历史上的各种体制一样,这样的社会仍然建立在大批奴隶的脊背上。不过,巨大的科技革新使底层阶级根本无需暴力胁迫便甘心受剥削,因为他们已经爱上了奴役。出生在“野蛮人保留地”的域外人(他被人唤作“野蛮人先生”)不曾经历过世界国的科技变迁,因此保有原始的精神状态。赫胥黎通过描写他的到来向读者提出了一个两难的问题:我们究竟想要自由还是快乐?

小说《1984》里描写的国家则实行一种严苛得多的极权主义,它不惜大搞暗杀行动、大规模监控民众来维护社会秩序。大洋国的执政党“英社党”对未来毫无积极愿景,它为了权力而行使权力,不惜毁灭语言、记忆和欲望等思想的载体。其卓有成效的手段之一是禁绝“思想犯罪”,将异见坑杀在被表达出来之前。另一种策略是鼓吹“双重思想”,即同时相信两个相互矛盾的真相——明知二者皆谬,却仍坚信不疑。

与《美丽新世界》一样,奥威尔也设计了“天降救星”(deux ex machina)的情节:温斯顿•史密斯有着不知来自何处的孤单灵魂,他反抗着那个与自己人生理念背道而驰的国家。然而掌握一切情况的统治者却通过折磨和说理双重手段改造温斯顿的思想,使其符合英社党的世界观。

剑桥分析是一家数据分析公司,许多人(不仅仅是自由主义左派人士,还包括这家公司的员工)都认为英国脱欧派和特朗普之所以能在公投和大选中以微弱优势取胜,剑桥分析功不可没。该公司宣称能通过分析网民的私人数据——主要是脸书里的点赞数——按照个性特征而不是人口统计数据来将用户归入253种模型。

虽然我们尚不清楚此类信息到底对英国脱欧公投和美国总统大选具体产生了什么作用,但至少我们知道它可以定向发送政治信息使之符合目标读者的偏好。该公司前研究主任克里斯托弗•怀利解释道:“比较严谨的人希望事事都有结构可依循,所以对他们而言,移民问题的解决方案应当突出秩序,而边境墙正是这样的象征。你发送的信息可能在一部分人看来毫无道理,但在另一部分人眼中则显得明智无比。”只要分析70个你点过赞的内容,剑桥分析公司对你的了解程度将超过你的朋友;分析150个点赞,它将超过你的父母;分析300个点赞,它将比你枕边人还了解你。

曾任剑桥分析公司总裁的尼克斯在分析美国艾奥瓦州选情

5月,剑桥分析公司在媒体负面报道中宣告破产。然而,不论是在公共还是私人领域,仍有机构(如Data Propria和Emerdata)在从事数据分析。它们终将像赫胥黎和奥威尔那样,在某个方面解答自由主义的谜题。把人工智能引入自由民主体制的天才之处在于,它既使投票者感受到渴求的自由感,又巩固了社会迫切需要的秩序。

卢梭曾反对束缚人类的“枷锁”。学习哲学的人必定想不到,这位思想家的理念竟能为这个“有史以来最强大的意念控制机器”辩护。但这恰好展示了过去250年里自由主义外延扩张到了何等程度。主张平等的民主从来都不是人们各自为政的混战,它需要靠看不见的手来巧妙指引。

卢梭在《爱弥儿:论教育》一书中阐述了个体需要满足什么要求,才有资格缔结“社会契约”。他把自己代入家庭教师的角色,为学生爱弥儿营造出一个有序自由、清晰易懂的世界。他一丝不苟地备课,将知识切割包装开来,按照必要的先后次序教授爱弥儿。爱弥儿绝不可以试图学习卢梭认为他目前还力所不逮的知识,也不应该知道自己所学的就是“知识”,而且还必须对师生关系的本质一无所知。这一切听上去是不是有点耳熟?

与卢梭一样,社交媒体推送的新闻也给我们创造出一个有序自由、清晰易懂的世界。在一般情况下,这不会造成混乱。但在当前这个年代,由于各个公民的接受信息的来源略有不同,它们只会反射出我们所理解的世界。这样一来,由我们自己的疑虑、渴望和偏见构成的主观现实仿佛因此具备了客观性。因此我们觉得脸书、推特等社交媒体上那些与我们观念相左的人仿佛来自其他星球;而我们认为自己则好比《1984》里的温斯顿•史密斯,在权力面前单枪匹马地坚持真理。

互联网的极度主观性给我们以高度的自由,但秩序却是匮乏的。在谷歌公司董事长埃里克•施密特看来,互联网是“历史上规模最大的无政府状态实验”。难怪基辛格博士会对互联网大加批判,失望地将网络世界形容为“霍布斯式的自然状态”。如果要用一句话总结霍布斯的思想,那就是一旦让暴民当政,混乱将摧毁文明。可基辛格并没有就此推导出一个必然的结论,即当前形态的互联网不具有可持续性。互联网这片“狂野西部”的沃土,必定给强有力的暴君留出了统治的空间。这样一来,利维坦式的剑桥分析公司便登上了历史舞台。

剑桥分析公司通过技术使网民们激动地品尝极度主观性的滋味,却又以隐秘的手段将秩序施加于众人。它提供的信息不一定非要印证我们的世界观,也可以是对我们情绪的挑拨。该公司前任首席执行官亚历山大•尼克斯曾亲口说道:“只要有人愿意相信,真相不一定要是真的。”克里斯托弗•怀利在揭发他曾经的老板时,有句话说的很对:“你在制造真相。”

但制造真相并没有错。卢梭向我们揭示,真相或许是民主社会的必需品,但它终究是人为虚构出来的,而真相的制造权应该掌握在国家手里。剑桥分析公司和小说《1984》里的英社党有同样的形而上哲学理念:现实只存在于我们的脑海里。也正如书里的“老大哥”一般,剑桥分析公司做出了明智而有能力的决定,即利用虚构的现实来维护秩序而不是散播混乱。

人们常常忘记《1984》是个积极乐观的故事。尽管外人可能一厢情愿地认为大洋国的生活充满残酷,但温斯顿发现,对占人口85%的无产者来说,生活唯一变糟糕的地方是啤酒不再以“品脱”而是按“升”计量。英社党或许会人为降低民众的生活水平,但那只是为了避免全面冲突导致生活水平进一步恶化。另一方面,工人阶级显著的自豪感和身份认同感也抵消了生活水平下降带来的负面影响,而这正是今天的西方社会严重缺乏的。小说的结局皆大欢喜:“但是没有事,一切都很好,斗争已经结束了。他战胜了自己。他热爱老大哥。”这一刻,温斯顿终于愿意相信自己已经得到了自由。

倘若卢梭成为全体公民的家庭教师,他将与“老大哥”没什么两样

《1984》和《爱弥儿》对国家教育的构想没有本质的不同,唯一的区别在于奥威尔的提议更具有延展性。倘若卢梭成为国家全体公民的家庭教师,他将与“老大哥”没什么两样。但眼下,无数卢梭式“家庭教师”并存的局面是难以维系的。如果这种状况持续下去,柏拉图对民主的判断将得到证实。他认为,倡导人人平等的民主会引发混乱并最终导致理想国覆灭。到目前为止,西方的自由民主并不像柏拉图预期的那样强调平等主义。相反,西式民主一直坚持通过看不见的手来引导民众——也就是沃尔特•李普曼口中的“不知所措的乌合之众”。

绝佳的例证之一便是冷战期间研究公共关系和政治宣传的爱德华•伯尼斯提出的“操控同意”。美国政府通过操控美国民众,使他们对苏联共产主义产生恐惧,并以此捍卫自由市场式民主。在格雷灵和乔姆斯基等著名思想家的眼中,剑桥分析公司“制造真相”的行为是对自由民主的威胁,但其实它恰恰是自由民主得以在网络时代赖以存续的关键。

许多人认为,自由行动的理性人构成了自由主义民主体制的根基。这种根深蒂固的误解好比一条有待勇士征服的恶龙。自世纪之交以来,欺世盗名者篡夺了对民主的解释权,使历史上取得成功的民主制度被边缘化。托尼•布莱尔担任英国首相的时期,大概就是最好的例证。布莱尔提出 “持续民主”的概念,导致政策制定完全取决于民众五花八门的冲动和欲求。这样一来,政府便不可能诞生任何能改善世界的宏伟构想。

剑桥分析公司已经向世界展示了人工智能的强大,完全有能力帮助人类达成宏伟的目标。然而如果在无人承担责任的监管真空里使用这种工具,政治人物将沦为迎合民众情感的商品。但我们同样可以利用这项技术来安抚网络空间里的乌合之众,或借助它来为新政策赢得支持。不论如何,人工智能都可以使结果看起来像是公民自由思想的产物。正如脸书首席运营官雪莉•桑德伯格所说,“谷歌的作用在于帮助人们找到想要购买的东西,而脸书则帮助人们决定他们想要什么。”

西方社会的右派憧憬小政府,自由主义左派则对权威保持疑惧,只要有人敢提出权力在运用得当的情况下是一股积极力量,难免面临 “法西斯主义”或“极权主义”的尖锐指控。美国前总统富兰克林•罗斯福和欧盟委员会前主席罗伊•詹金斯都曾面临这样的问题。

但今天的情况比过去更危急,我们面临两种选择:秩序或毁灭。历史学家尼尔•弗格森曾指出,历史上与互联网相似度最高的技术革命是印刷机的发明。印刷术导致欧洲迎来了长达150年的破坏与毁灭,直到《威斯特伐利亚和约》签订后冲突才慢慢平息。

1520年12月10日,马丁·路德公开烧毁教皇诏书和教会法律,宣称“他们烧了我的书,我也烧他们的书。”

我们今天的处境与赫胥黎1931年出版《美丽新世界》时颇为相似。尽管这部小说早已被尊奉为反极权主义的圣典,但赫胥黎在创作其“反乌托邦”社会时,态度模棱两可、耐人寻味。彼时,作者面对的是一个蹒跚前行的英国,它刚刚经历了经济大萧条、英镑抛售狂潮、金本位制度的废止、紧急政府成立等一系列波折。经济学家凯恩斯提出,只有增加公共事业和消费的开支,英国的诸多问题才能得到解决。赫胥黎对凯恩斯的提议嗤之以鼻,将他比作法国大革命的领袖罗伯斯庇尔。这当然不是什么好话。

面对处于混乱边缘的世界,赫胥黎不得不做出选择,一方面是凯恩斯乏味的经济方案,另一方面则是绝不可接受的、公共秩序的灾难性崩溃。赫胥黎写道:“迫于形势的人文主义者可能会诉诸科学的政治宣传手段,正如迫于形势的自由主义者会诉诸独裁统治。(因为)任何形式的秩序都好过混乱。”

正因如此,赫胥黎才会在《美丽新世界》里违心地默许凯恩斯的消费主义式独裁统治,使其凌驾于任何形式的破坏与毁灭之上。在小说里,每个人都享有安全,除了个别不寻常的人大家都是快乐的。依现代自由派的眼光看,小说中的人物可能不“自由”,但他们认为自己是自由的,因为他们拥有“获得快乐的自由”。考虑到二战时期人类经历了闪电战、奥斯维辛集中营、广岛的核打击等一系列黑暗篇章,如果赫胥黎的“反乌托邦”能在技术进步的作用下变得毫无痛楚,那我们凭什么对它提出哪怕一丝一毫的反对呢?

自由派用“反乌托邦”来形容剑桥分析公司,这种说法固然不错,但如果他们能理解赫胥黎在思想上的勇气,便不难发现“反乌托邦”不见得是件坏事。从柏拉图的《理想国》到欧盟委员会主席让-克洛德•容克所说的“日益密切的联盟”,乌托邦最显著的特征是它背后那盲目的理想主义和不切实际的空想。

“乌托邦”来自1516年托马斯•莫尔的同名小说《乌托邦》,这个词在希腊语中同时包含着“不存在的地方”和“好地方”两重含义。有一种经典解读认为,《乌托邦》揭示出私有财产(私有财产是伊丽莎白时期英国社会的根基)不见容于完美的公益社会(commonwealth)。作者将书中一条河流的命名为“安尼德鲁斯河”,在希腊语中是“无水之河”的意思,更将主人公的姓氏唤作“希斯洛德”,在希腊语里的意思是“胡说八道之人”,以此来讽喻完美世界根本不存在。从雅各宾派到苏联人,历史向我们反复证明了莫尔的笑话有多么危险和致命。

与“乌托邦”的险恶本质相比,我们反倒应该欢迎剑桥分析公司头上贴着的“反乌托邦”标签。反乌托邦最大特点在于它在现实中的可操作性,它致力于解决各种意识形态内部的矛盾,是警醒盲目理想主义者的良药。在这个意义上,《美丽新世界》、《1984》和剑桥分析公司向我们呈现的世界是相当具有吸引力的。

随着美国国安局的棱镜项目和剑桥分析公司的操作浮出水面,西方世界必须改变他们对中国监控系统的认知和态度。中国公民和西方国家公民享有的隐私权其实程度相当,唯一的区别在于西方国家的私营领域和公共部门都参与了大规模监控项目。

因此,当西方评论人士抨击百度总裁李彦宏关于中国公民愿意用隐私换取便利的言论时,他们其实应该好好考虑一下自己立场。

福柯认为,监视必然导致不同程度的自律,有纪律的社会是以监控为手段的

如今,西方国家的民众无时无刻不受到监视。但监控者是谁,出于什么目的,大家一无所知。西方人和中国人一样,都是边沁所说的“全景敞视监狱”(或称“圆形监狱”)里的一员。但与传统观念相反,今天的全景敞视建筑并不是一所真正的监狱。我们的行为没有受限,我们可以随心所欲地走动,可以自由地思考。慢慢的,墙将从我们的视线里消失,我们会逐渐习惯这个环境,不再觉得这有什么不妥。一切终将好起来,斗争终将结束。我们终将战胜自己。我们终将爱上老大哥。

(观察者网周然译,杨晗轶校,翻页阅读英文原文)

Cambridge Analytica and Dystopias

It’s today’s liberal struggle in microcosm: the precocious young George Orwell, defending the blind, stooping Aldous Huxley from a rabble of tormenting schoolboys. As told by MinooDinshaw in his biography of the historian Steve Runciman (himself a contemporary of Orwell’s at Eton College, where Huxley was a master), “it is a neat image: the prophet of Brave New World shielded by the creator of 1984”. Following Brexit, Trump, and Cambridge Analytica, this is (is) a scene often invoked by Western commentators: the values of liberal individualism, rained down upon by demagoguery and stupidity. But, as Dinshaw concludes, it is “perhaps a little too neat”.

In its masterful reporting of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, The Observer referred to the unfolding events, on multiple occasions, as ‘dystopian’. Just as Dinshaw rightly calls into question the veracity of that which Runciman supposedly saw as a schoolboy during the First World War, we must scrutinize the assumptions upon which all coverage of Cambridge Analytica’s recent activity has been made. Is it dystopian? And if so, is there anything wrong with that?

To understand the West, you must understand their dystopias. The greatest and most prescient of these are Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s 1984. These novels articulate the desires and discontents of modern liberalism. At their heaving centres is a shared anxiety: can we retain individual freedom in all its persistently revolutionary glory without compromising on our demand for order and security, which can seemingly be provided only by power and hierarchy? Any student of modern history would be forgiven for thinking the two to be mutually exclusive.

Through the enforcement of brainwashing and a caste system founded on genetic engineering, the state in Brave New World succeeds in creating boundless consumption. This pacifies the world’s one state and gives them security, but this is at the expense of liberty. Like all others before it, this society has been forged off the backs of a population of slaves. However, vast technological changes have enabled this underclass to be exploited not out of violent coercion, but love for their servitude. When an outsider (who becomes known as Mr Savage) arrives from a society that has not experienced such technological, and therefore spiritual upheaval, Huxley confronts us with the question of whether we want to be free or happy.

In 1984, the state enforces order through a much harsher totalitarianism, based on widespread state-sponsored killing, and mass surveillance. ‘The Party’ of Oceania does not pursue any positive vision. It exercises power for its own sake, enforcing this through the destruction of language, memory, and desire as vehicles for thought. One of the ways in which it has achieved this is through the outlawing of ‘thoughtcrime’ – dissident views are sniffed out before they are expressed. The other is ‘doublethink’, the practice of believing in two contradictory truths – knowing them both to be false, yet cleaving to them. As in Brave New World, the plot device used is the deus ex machina – out of nowhere, a seemingly solitary soul, Winston Smith, confronts the state diametrically opposed to his own philosophy. His opposition is snared, and through a combination of torture and reasoned argument, ‘The Party’ aims to win him around to their own worldview.

Cambridge Analytica is a data analytics firm, to which many (not just the liberal left, but the company themselves) have attributed the marginal electoral victories of the Brexit campaigners, and Donald Trump. By analyzing an individual’s private data, mostly Facebook likes, Cambridge Analytica claimed to be able to group people not by demographics, but by personality traits – of which they had 253 models.

Although their precise role in the two election campaigns is unclear, such information would allow a political message to be tailored for the intended recipient. As former Cambridge Analytica director of research Christopher Wylie explained, “conscientious people like structure, so for them, a solution to immigration should be orderly, and a wall embodied that. You can create messaging that doesn’t make sense to some people but makes so much sense to other people”. With 70 likes, Cambridge Analytica would know you better than a friend; with 150 likes, a parent; and with 300, a spouse.

Cambridge Analytica shut down in May following the negative press coverage. However, those in the public and private sector that continue their practices (such as Data Propria and Emerdata) will, like Huxley and Orwell, go some way in providing a solution to the great riddle of liberalism. The genius of introducing artificial intelligence into liberal democracy is that it gives voters the sensation of liberty we so dearly want, whilst reinforcing the order we so desperately need.

Students of philosophy will undoubtedly raise their eyebrows at the idea of turning to Rousseau, the same thinker who decried man’s “chains”, to justify “the most powerful mind-control machine ever invented”. However, this shows the extent of liberal position creep over the past 250 years. Egalitarian democracy has never been a free-for-all, but a system reliant on the guidance of a deft, invisible hand.

Rousseau wrote his tract on education, Emile, to illustrate what was required of an individual looking to enter into “the social contract”. Casting himself in the star role of the tutor, Rousseau creates a world of ordered freedom and perfect legibility around his eponymous pupil. In scrupulously prepared lessons, the tutor envelops knowledge, attributing a necessity to its sequence. Emile must not know of the ideas deemed beyond his grasp, and ignorant that his knowledge is knowledge. He must also be ignorant of the true nature of his relationship with the tutor. Sound familiar?

Like the tutor Rousseau, our social media news feeds create a world of ordered freedom and perfect legibility. Ordinarily, this would not result in chaos. But in our age, since every citizen’s tutor is slightly different, and only reflects the world back at us, the subjective reality of our own doubts, desires and prejudices is made objective. As a result, we think that every other user on Twitter or Facebook who doesn’t agree with us literally lives on another planet, in an alternate reality, while we – like Winston Smith in 1984 – are alone in speaking truth to power.

The internet’s hyper-subjectivity gives us a lot of liberty, but not much order. The Google chairman Eric Schmidt has described the internet as “the largest experiment involving anarchy in history”. Unsurprisingly, Dr Kissinger saw no merit in this, despairing of the web as a “Hobbesian state of nature”. If Hobbes taught us anything, it is that civilization cannot survive when left to the chaos of the mob. As such, Kissinger did not follow his thinking to its natural conclusion: the internet in its current state is unsustainable. This ‘wild west’ has inevitably left a vacuum for a tyrant. Enter the Leviathan of Cambridge Analytica.

Cambridge Analytica’s technology offers us the sensation of this hyper-subjectivity, but subtly imposes order since what we are offered is not necessarily a confirmation of our worldview, but an exhortation to our emotions. In the words of former Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix, “things don’t necessarily need to be true so long as they’re believed”. The whistleblower Christopher Wylie is correct to attack his former boss with the allegation “you are creating truth”.

There is nothing wrong with this - Rousseau showed us that in a democracy, truth may be necessary, but it is a human fiction that should be of the state’s creation. Cambridge Analytica also shares a metaphysical philosophy with ‘the Party’ of 1984: reality is something that only happens in our heads. Like Big Brother, they have made the wise and able decision to use this as a means of keeping order rather than unleashing chaos.

It is often forgotten that 1984 is a feel-good story. Despite the supposed brutality of life in Oceania, Winston notes that the only way in which life has worsened for its ‘proles’, the working class who consist of 85% of the population, is beer’s measurement in litres rather than in pints. ‘The Party’ may artificially lower the standard of living, but this is to avoid an all-out conflict which would worsen it still. Besides, it is offset by the clear sense of pride and identity felt by the working class – something sorely lacking in the West today. This is shared in the book’s happy ending: “But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother”. It is when Winston finally conforms that he is liberated.

The only difference between the visions of state education seen in 1984 and Emile is the greater scalability of Orwell’s proposal. Were Rousseau the tutor of all the state’s future citizens, he would be no different from Big Brother. However, the current settlement of millions of individual tutors is unsustainable. Were this to continue, Plato’s assessment of the chaos of egalitarian democracy as one of the final stages in a republic’s demise would be vindicated. Hitherto, liberal democracy in the West has not conformed to Plato’s expectations of egalitarianism. Rather, it has always necessitated a firm, invisible hand steering what Walter Lippmann dubbed the ‘bewildered herd’.

One of the most successful examples of this was Edward Bernays’ “engineering of consent” during the Cold War. This entailed the manipulation of the American population’s fears of Soviet Communnism as a means of safeguarding free market democracy. Contrary to the claims of prominent thinkers such as AC Grayling and Noam Chomsky, what Nix calls “creating truth” is not a threat to liberal democracy, but vital for its survival in the age of cyberspace.

The notion of liberal democracy’s foundation being freely acting rational beings is a dragon that must be slain. At the turn of the century, it began to usurp the stable brand of democracy which had traditionally been so successful. Perhaps Tony Blair’s time as British Prime Minister is the best example of this. His ‘continuous democracy’ resulted in policymaking based on people’s incoherent whims and desires. This precluded any greater vision of how the world could be changed for the better.

Cambridge Analytica has shown how artificial intelligence can be used to powerful ends. But used within a regulatory vacuum, where nobody can be made accountable, it turns politicians into commodities – a product sold by appealing to people’s emotions. However, this technology could be used to pacify the cyber-mob, or gain support for new policies. In any case, it will appear to be a result of the citizen’s own free thinking. As Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has explained, “whereas Google helped people find the things they already wanted to buy, Facebook would help them decide what they wanted”.

With the right’s dreams of small government and the liberal left’s fear of authority, any suggestion of power’s use as a positive force is likely to be met by shrill accusations of ‘fascism’ or ‘totalitarianism’. FDR and Roy Jenkins encountered the same problems. But now the situation is more urgent, as we are met with the options of order or destruction. As historian Niall Ferguson has pointed out, the technological revolution most resembling the internet was the invention of the printing press. It heralded 150 years of destruction before the Treaty of Westphalia brought things to a simmer.

Our situation is similar to that which Huxley was confronting when he published Brave New World in 1931. Despite its adoption as one of the canonical anti-totalitarian tracts, Huxley wrote his ‘dystopia’ with more ambivalence. The author was speaking to a Britain reeling in the wake of the Great Depression, a run on sterling, the abandoning of the gold standard, and the formation of an emergency government.The economist JM Keynes had suggested the country’s problems could only be solved by an increase in spending on public works and consumption. Huxley despised this proposal, comparing Keynes to Robespierre. This was not meant kindly.

His world teetering on the brink of chaos, Huxley was torn between an unappetizing economic solution, and an unacceptable, devastating breakdown in public order. As he wrote, “it may be that circumstances compel the humanist to resort to scientific propaganda, just as they compel the liberal to resort to dictatorship. Any form of order is better than chaos”. It is to his credit that in Brave New World, we see Huxley tacitly accept Keynes’ consumerist dictatorship against his convictions, over any sort of destruction. In the novel, everyone has security, and everyone (aside from a handful of the most extraordinary individuals) is happy. They may not be ‘free’ in the modern liberals’ sense of the word, but they consider themselves as such – they are ‘free to be happy’. Made painless by technological development, and given the later terrors of the Blitz, Auschwitz, and Hiroshima, there is nothing even mildly objectionable in Huxley’s ‘dystopia’.

Liberals would do well to study Huxley’s intellectual fortitude. When they describe Cambridge Analytica as ‘dystopian’, they’re not wrong. However, this need not be a bad thing. From Plato’s Republic to Junker’s “ever-closer union”, utopias are best identified by their blind idealism and impracticality. When Sir Thomas More coined the term in his 1516 novel Utopia, he had in mind the Greek for ‘no place’ as much as ‘good place’. One of the most lasting interpretations of the work has been its demonstration of how private property – the foundation of Elizabethan England – could not exist within the perfect commonwealth.Featuring a river whose name translates to ‘nowater’, and a protagonist whose surname means ‘dispenser of nonsent’, More was satirizing the idea of a perfect world. From the Jacobins to the Soviets, this has proven one of the deadliest jokes ever told.

Given the menacing nature of utopias, the dystopian (alternatively known as anti-utopian) label attributed to Cambridge Analytica should be welcomed. If anything, dystopias are best identified by their practicality. They aim to resolve the internal contradictions of ideologies – a welcome antidote to the blind idealism of their utopian brothers. In this respect, the worlds of Brave New World, 1984, and Cambridge Analytica are quite attractive.

Following the revelations about the NSA and the emergence of Cambridge Analytica, Western attitudes towards Chinese surveillance will have to change. Citizens in China and the West enjoy similar levels of privacy, the only difference being that in the latter, both private and public sectors are involved in snooping campaigns.

So when Western analysts lash out against Robin Li’s bold remarks about Chinese netizens’ willingness to exchange privacy for convenience, they ought to consider their own position.

Westerners are now constantly observed, but never knowing by whom or for what reason. We have joined the Chinese in the panopticon. However, contrary to the conventional view, this is not a prison. Our movements are not restricted: we can still go wherever we wish, and are no less capable of free thought. The walls will disappear from view, we will gradually become used to it, and it will be all right. Everything will be all right, the struggle will be finished. We will have won the victory over ourselves. We will love Big Brother.

朱萧发

朱萧发

剑桥大学新生,青年观察者

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来源:观察者网 | 责任编辑:杨晗轶
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