We said ‘never again.’ Now look at Xinjiang
By Mark Hurst • January 21, 2022
I got a little emotional at the end of my Techtonic broadcast this week. The episode was focused on Darren Byler’s excellent new book, In the Camps: China’s High-Tech Penal Colony (get it at Indiebound or your local library). The book describes the detention camps and prisons that have sprung up in China’s western region of Xinjiang, with an estimated million people now imprisoned, and several million more living in fear of being sent to the camps. The victims of the camp system, the Muslim population of Uyghurs and Kazakhs, are seeing their culture, society, and language all being extinguished. Last month, the White House deemed this to be “genocide.” (Source)
An especially vicious aspect of the camp system is the digital technology that runs it. Networked cameras, microphones, phone-scanning checkpoints, facial recognition algorithms, and other digital tools have been installed throughout the cities of Xinjiang, smothering the population with the same technologies that so often enjoy positive, even fawning press here in the US. Indeed, many of the technologies being used in Xinjiang were created by American Big Tech firms, or funded by American investors – revealing the complicity of our own tech industry in building, and profiting from, the techno-concentration camps in Xinjiang. I had to talk about this on Techtonic.
My show is a live broadcast on FM radio, and the podcast is just a recording of whatever happens live on-air. So if there are any surprises in the moment, you hear them in the podcast – unlike, say, more polished podcasts that go through an editing process before release.
I bring this up because of what happened on show day, this past Monday. A few hours before going on-air, I came across this clip of Chamath Palihapitiya speaking on his podcast, called “All-In,” on January 15. Chamath is a Facebook billionaire, having helped super-charge Facebook’s early growth while brushing off ethical concerns, just as you’d expect from a key lieutenant of Zuck. (For more detail, Steven Levy writes about Chamath in Facebook: the Inside Story, which I covered on the May 25, 2020 Techtonic: stream my interview with Steven Levy, or download the podcast – interview starts at 7:57.)
Since leaving Facebook, Chamath has amassed a mountain of wealth from other investments, as well as becoming one of the owners of San Francisco’s NBA team, the Golden State Warriors. This is a key detail, since the NBA makes an enormous amount of money in China and has never responded to calls to speak out against the camps in Xinjiang.
On the All-In podcast on Saturday, having been asked about the Uyghur genocide, Chamath said the following:
Nobody cares about what’s happening to the Uyghurs, OK? You bring it up, ’cause you really care, and I think that’s nice that you care. The rest of us don’t care. I’m telling you a very hard, ugly truth, OK? Of all the things that I care about, yes, it is below my line. OK? Of all the things that I care about, it is – Below. My. Line.
Chamath has long prided himself on his brash, arrogant attitude (again, see Levy’s book), so he isn’t acting particularly out of the ordinary here. The way he emphasizes the last three words – “Below. My. Line.” – shows how confidently Chamath has presented his (very smart! very important!) thoughts over the years. As both an NBA owner and a billionaire who made his wealth from a criminal surveillance platform, Chamath perfectly fits the mold of a elite globalist who would rather not talk about where his money comes from. He later posted “clarifying comments,” not an apology, saying he knows he “[came] across as lacking empathy.” Cleared things right up.
To be fair, Chamath is not alone:
• Craig Smith, chief executive of snowboarding firm Burton China, claims it’s “not my expertise” to talk about Xinjiang, except to mention the “fun of snowboarding” there (see the BBC interview or excerpt on Twitter).
• Smith, above, was just copying billionaire Ray Dalio, who said recently that “I can’t be an expert” on China (though he’s invested billions of dollars there) and that China is merely “behav[ing] like a strict parent” (source: CNBC).
• Actor John Cena, billionaire and NBA owner Mark Cuban, and NBA star LeBron James variously praise China and feign ignorance over Xinjiang, as I wrote in this column last June. Cuban in particular shamed himself in this clip that I played on Techtonic.
This is all, I hope, helping to explain what happened at the end of the show on Monday. Darren Byler’s interview, and his book, calmly and clearly describe the horrors of Xinjiang: the totalitarian surveillance in day-to-day life, the disappearances of innocent citizens brought up on charges of “pre-crimes,” the forced labor, the imprisonment, and the torture. Having finished the interview, I then played Chamath’s clip. Here was the surveillance billionaire baldly saying, “Nobody cares.”
That’s when I lost my ever-loving mind.
Somewhat (just somewhat) calmer now, as I type this, I want to repeat what I said on Techtonic. 76 years ago, the Western democracies surveyed the Nazi concentration camps and said: Never again. No matter what happens, no matter what other disagreements we may have in the future, we will never allow this to happen, anywhere on Earth, ever again.
It’s happening again. In Xinjiang we see the mass imprisonment of an ethnic group, on the basis of race and religion, using the latest technology: this time it’s not industrial machinery, but digital surveillance and control. People aren’t being massacred, they’re being erased. A genocide planned, launched, and managed with tools of Big Tech, and Big Finance, which continue to enrich those elite globalists - Chamath among them - who still, to their shame and ours, refuse to acknowledge what’s happening.
Listen to my Techtonic episode with Darren Byler, author of In the Camps:
• Download the whole episode as a podcast
• See playlist and comments
Finally, given my state, I wasn’t able to properly introduce the closing song during the show. So here it is: The Day Computers Became Obsolete, by Eryk Salvaggio and The Organizing Committee. Here's the song on Bandcamp, and a brilliant video on Vimeo, which shows the lyrics. (Thanks to WFMU’s music director, Olivia Bradley-Skill, for the pointer.)
Until next time,
Mark Hurst, founder, Creative Good – see official announcement and join as a member
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