That same week I was living in Hong Kong, writing for a computer magazine before I joined EE Times.
When news of what was going on in Tainanmen Square came down, people left work, shops closed and we all filed into the streets. Some poeple were crying. Others sang. Vendors handed out hastily printed up T-shirts with various slogans and pictures of Chinese heros. One young manin my office looked up to me with tears in his eyes and said, "Today I am ashamed to be Chinese."
A spontaneous march began to get organized. I flowed into it. We marched past replicas of the Goddess of Democracy in front of Xinhua News, the unofficial embassy of mainland China in Hong Kong, at that time a British colony.
Hong Kong is a very busienss oriented city about people working hard to make money. But that day we were all swept up into something much bigger.
The biggest problem is that the Chinese government has recently succeeded in their quest to hide the facts from their own people, even if we know all about it. Chinese citizens that were of the age of rebellion during Tiananmen Square know the facts very well, but the present generation of 20ish year old Chinese have never heard of it, the thousands killed by the government have been perfectly erased from their history books.
We shouldn't forget the role that fax machines played during those days. Fax was state of the art in the late 80s, and served well to keep Chinese in China and in the diaspora in touch with each other and supporting each other. A predecessor to social media today.
Actually, I'd argue that engineers are very ethical, almost inherently so, and I'm proud to be associated with the bunch. Engineers seem to be self-motivated to improve on everything they touch (perhaps to a fault). I have no concerns that any electronic equipment I use will harm me or do evil. I know there are no trap doors built in to surprise me with a trojan horse or or secret outlet. I know that nobody designed a bridge to fall down, a car to drive itself into a lake, or a rocket to disintergrate. That's not to say bad decisions aren't made sometimes, possibly based on business issues, but I've never felt there was evil intent in any engineer's work. This is all different from the Tiananmen Sq situation and certain other political issues (building bombs).
My reaction to this Tiananmen Square anniversary is that it's not really being celebrated. Compare it, for instance, to the D-Day invasion 70th anniversary.
In that latter case, we say, look how that event changed the world. In the former, has anything changed? The Chinese government is still telling people what to do, what to think, and what they should be allowed to know. Or at least, trying their best to do so?
(A not unfair retort is our own government's witchhunt against Snowden.)
Yes, I agree about D-Day anniversary and it is a big anniversary. I read the vets' recollections yesterday on New York Times. I tried to think of an angle to approach it but not until now did I realize: we could have made a list of all the techniques used that made the invasion successful that could not be used today because of technology. For instance: there could be no surprise attack. Don't you think?
You have to admit, China's economy has changed a lot in 25 years.
I tried to think of an angle to approach it but not until now did I realize: we could have made a list of all the techniques used that made the invasion successful that could not be used today because of technology.
True enough, but this has been going on for a very long time. Warfare techniques change rapidly. One of the oft-cited criticisms of the miltary is that they don't adapt fast enough, but rather continue to be structured "to fight the last war." Unless some sort of cataclysmic event happens, no one would expect to fight a protracted war such as WWII these days. In fact, even during WWII, there was a revolution going on in how sea power and air power would and should be used, which were thoroughly different from what had been the case as recently as 23 years prior!
You have to admit, China's economy has changed a lot in 25 years.
Indeed. But that too can be attributed to the government. One reason for such a huge change was that the Chinese economy had a whole lot of improvement to achieve. It had been kept woefully undeveloped previously, especially so beginning with the cultural revolution starting in 1966. Imagine what 1.4 billion well educated people could do if the leash was loosened today.
True. Also, keeping technology a secret, as this story shows, can give you a very brief advantage. Soon enough everyone has the same technology. Perhaps some day, deterrent technology will better than offensive technology, so wars will be unwinnable from the get go. You'd be able to immediately shut down each side's weapons.
Please understand that I am not a gun owner but I certainly feel that gun ownership should never be banned for similar reasons to what the Chinese government was attempting squash at the time (and now). This is similar in nature to what the Turkish gevernment attempted to do with Twitter. Such authoritarian stories continue to this day and as long as there are authotity figures, there will always be the potential that any population/society can become the victims of those who hold absolute power.
Similarly, these types of stories may have actually led Edward Snowden to do what he did and why he decided to become such a whistle-blower. I think that after a full year later of his revelations, I am no longer sitting on the fence about his acts and I think that his acts were for common good... unless, of course (as some feel), there are other agendas being played by people behind the scenes in the Snowden saga!
I don't mean to offend anyone with my opinions and feelings regarding this topic >> consider these words as strictly one engineers "IMHO" >> nothing more and nothing less!
Even in a democracy, a majority of the people place their trust in their government, which still occasionally violates that trust, in the eyes of at least a significant fraction of the people. The news is filled with the most extreme examples, all of which appear to be violations of human rights and democracy.
I don't think there are many true democracies in the world. Certainly in Australia we only get to chose which dictator we want for the next few years. Once in power they don't keep their pre-election promises, on the flimsiest of excuses, and there is no way to hold them to their words. Switzerland, with its system of referendums on big issues, maybe comes close but I have heard that is not perfect either.
I think Douglas Adams describes modern democracy brilliantly in So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish (1984), the 4th book of the Hitchhiker's trilogy. Ford Prefect describes the government of a planet populated by people, but ruled by lizards:
"No," said Ford, "... the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people." "Odd," said Arthur, "I thought you said it was a democracy." "I did," said Ford. "It is." "So," said Arthur, hoping he wasn't sounding ridiculously obtuse, "why don't people get rid of the lizards?" "It honestly doesn't occur to them," said Ford. "They've all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they've voted in more or less approximates to the government they want." "You mean they actually vote for the lizards?" "Oh yes," said Ford with a shrug, "of course." "But," said Arthur, going for the big one again, "why?" "Because if they didn't vote for a lizard," said Ford, "the wrong lizard might get in. Got any gin?"
In the USA people vote for the candidates who spend the most money on TV advertising. It doesn't occur to people to spend a few minutes per candidate to check out their web sites and see who would best represent their interests. Then voters have the nerve to complain that the politicians they elect don't represent them well.
Thanks all for the replies. In Australia voting is compulsory (though they don't seem to enforce that too severely). But the problem is the choice of candidates and parties. The Lib/Nats can't manage people, Labour can't manage money, and the Greens, while they are good to have around to keep the others in check, would be a joke in government (should I say, more of a joke than the 2 main parties). So who do you vote for? Usually it's a case of the devil you know....But here, a millionaire mining magnate called Clive Palmer has garnered a bit of the vote, enough to give him the balance of power, and in Europe a few countries have had good showings by far-right parties. While I don't subscribe to all of their values, it is great to have a bit of opposition to keep the same-old same-old parties on their toes.
You're probably quite correct on the topic of whether or not a given country operates as a "true democracy." But sometimes it's easier to reduce the discussion to its more bare essentials.
IMO, what makes the biggest difference here is how the public perceives the role of its government. Does the public expect the government to be "leading, directing them throughout their lives," or does the public expect the government to "do their bidding."
What I find really sad is when people look to the government for leadership. That borders on pathetic. Any "leadership" we expect from our politicans had better be the result of us demanding that leadership, in directions we demand, not us passively expecting the leadership from some sort of demi-gods, so we can put our brains in neutral.
Of course, not every wish can be granted in such a system, which is why most democracies are in truth representative republics. But it's everyone's duty to make their voice heard, to hold their representatives accountable, and to work to boot them out of office when they misbehave (e.g. when they don't listen to what we told them to do!). The terms "civil servant" and "elected representative" are supposed to mean what they say.
Hi Bert. You said above ".....to hold their representatives accountable".
How do you do that (apart from booting them out at the next election by which time they have usually done untold damage)? I reckon referendums are a great way to do this. Hold them regularly (say every 6 months) and trigger them on whether a proposed policy goes above a certain monetary spend, or affects more than a certain number of people, or is the subject of complaint by more than a certain number of people. Every 6 months the electorate would vote on any such issues that have come up in those 6 months. That way the people can truly have their say on anything from whether to start a new mine on prime farming land, to whether to kick the current government out. Sure it would cost money, but the savings you'd get from having a government that is really accountable would more than pay for it, I reckon.
How do you do that (apart from booting them out at the next election by which time they have usually done untold damage)?
Hi David. Ultimately, yes, you boot them out of office. But before that, you write letters to your representatives, and of course you can also demonstrate and so on. But writing letters is important, because your representatives are duty-bound to listen to their constituents. Even if it's your President or Prime Minister who is misbehaving, perhaps acting too much like a dictator, a big letter writing campaign to your immediate representatives, in the House of Representatives/Parliament, and in the Senate or other upper house, is key.
Referendums are good too, like you suggest, IMO, but there are less cumbersome mechanisms already in place that need to be exerciced first.
I know that in the US, there's a sort of narrative that claims that our Second Amendment right (right to bear arms) is key to keep politicans in line. I'm at least partially skeptical about this view, but okay, it probably plays a role. The real key, IMO, is the attitude of the citizens. Governments that misbehave can and are dissolved routinely, even in countries without overly lax gun control laws such as we have in the US.
Whenever I hear our politicians referred to as "leaders," and especially when they refer to themselves that way, it makes my skin crawl. They'd better be listeners first, and WE need to remind them!
To the question, "How do we keep that from happening here," my answer is "keep your brain engaged, hold your representatives accountable, and be wary of the mentally lazy 'worker ant' attitude."
Hi Again Bert. Everything you say I agree with totally....but politicians in general and Australian ones in particular seem to be more thick-skinned than us mere mortals.
Graphic illustration of this recently. We had a state premier, Barry o'Farrell, who thought about selling of the electricity utilities (I work for one of them). Our union mounted a campaign against it and public opinion was mostly opposed to it....so he listened to that and ruled it out. However he got tripped up over a donation of a valuable bottle of wine he received and we now have a new premier, Mike Baird. He is mad keen on selling of the electricity utilities and does not seem to give a damn what we. the public or even his own party think. A forced referendum would almost certainly sort him out, but other than that I despair of anyone or anything stopping him. And yes, we have a massive campaign of letter writing and other means to voice our opposition. Carrots sometimes work but sometimes you need a stick....
Max quoted: "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government ... except all the others that have been tried."
I love that quote, whoëver said it. I heard a similar quote once (from memory): "A monarchy or dictatorship is like a huge ship that forges ahead until it hits a rock or iceberg, and then it sinks. A democracy is like a huge raft. It's basically unsinkable, but your feet are always wet."
I don't know of any true democracies in the world and my previous post is why--it's basically glorified mob rule. Contrary to what the news media says (along with most of the people who graduated school after me), the United States is a "democratic republic".