The Null Device

China's Triumph of the Will

The recent Beijing Olympics have been acclaimed as a spectacular success; though what they really demonstrated is the power of totalitarianism to get things done, a point which has been lost on a lot of naïve Western commentators:
The road home from Beijing is lined with wide-eyed converts who've seen the light on totalitarianism. “China has set the bar very high,” Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee, said. “There are some things that London will not be able to compare to, or equal - such as the ability to bring hundreds of thousands of volunteers to different sites.” Yes, Jacques, it is amazing what people can achieve once they appreciate there is no alternative.
Of course the Beijing Games went without a hitch. Give anyone total, terrifying control over a population, with force, and they will make them march in unison, drum, smile, dance, mime, jump through hoops if necessary. “They don't look very oppressed,” wrote one observer. No, pal, and neither would you if you knew the consequences of complaint.
Those performing the three-minute umbrella dance at the opening ceremony trained for six months for 14-15 hours each day, while the 900 soldiers unrolling the scroll that was the centrepiece of the production wore nappies because they had to stay hidden for seven hours, with not even a trip to the toilet allowed. And this is the event that our Olympics Minister called wondrous? That Rogge thinks will be hard to beat?
And the biggest threat, the article says, is that Britain's politicians, starstruck by Beijing 2008, will take home the lesson that totalitarianism can be so awesome:
This is the most worrying legacy of the Beijing Games. It has shown our ministers, civil servants and sports administrators what could be achieved, if we could only suspend personal freedom. Change is afoot.
Not that suspending civil liberties for the duration of the Olympics so that everyone can have fun without being brought down by protesters or other troublemakers is without precedent; it happened during the Sydney Olympics of 2000, when locals were prohibited from letting friends park in their houses (as not to compete with the official parking sponsors) and wearing clothing with political slogans or non-sponsoring brand names on it in the streets. Which is fairly mild compared to mass levelling of neighbourhoods, though it does make one wonder what innovations in the management of civil liberties the Blairite/Brownites will be tempted to bring to London 2012.

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