The hierarchical meritocracy of China is an efficient system, but fails ultimately without feedback loops that provide reliable information, clogging the meridians of the body politic. Social media can become an organic part of the Chinese body politic and thus improve good governance.
Some, like the dissident artist Ai Weiwei, see a state that always wants to know where you are, what you do, and who you talk to in order to be able to “crush” you at will.
2. The creative phase: building new institutions
a. If social networks can erode trust with tweets, undermine authority, and tear down institutions, what might be their role in reconstruction?
After the centrifugal phase of pulling down and pulling apart, the next turn is a centripetal phase which pulls together and builds up new institutions based either on new authorities or conceptions of authority.
Historically, either new elites are installed and hierarchical institutions re-established with a different set of strong rulers and experts (the pyramid), or, in modern (post-Enlightenment) times a diamond-shaped structure can form where most people are neither rich nor poor, and conflict and competition, ritualized by rules, take place in “arenas” such as courts, markets, science, and democracy.
Unlike the top-to-bottom power structure of the hierarchical pyramid, where legitimacy is invested in the rule of the worthy and the expert, the diamond model’s legitimacy arises from a “reciprocal accountability” of its participants.
Today’s social network upheaval puts pressure on both models to accommodate more participants who all share the same information.
The pyramid and the diamond are not so much alternatives as symbiotically linked like yin and yang, especially given the participatory power of social media.