The Taiwanese are living in an age of modern technology. But, if we review how modern technology is being applied in Taiwan, we have to wonder if we aren't still living in an unenlightened and feudal society.
Recently, we witnessed the efforts of Li Hsin-yu (李幸育), the fiance of army captain Sun Chi-hsiang (孫吉祥), who was killed in a training accident, demanding that sperm be harvested from the dead man so she can continue the family line. Is it necessary that the dead man "produce" off-spring to be remembered? Wouldn't it be better if Sun's accident served to inspire reform within the armed forces so that lives can be saved in the future?
One characteristic of modern technology is that progress often outstrips the law. However, a "modern" government cannot use the excuse that "no relevant law exists" to deny the petitions of the people, nor can it rule without the law. It has to formulate policy based on moral principles. Unfortunately, the process of decision-making often becomes a politically charged charade.
The case of Kuro, the nation's largest file-sharing firm, is filled with similar contradictions. In 1999, Kuro was named the "Best E-commerce Web site in Taiwan" by the Ministry of Economic Affairs. In 2003, it received the Digital Content Creative Software Award. Now, suddenly, it has been charged with violating intellectual property (IP) rights. We cannot but wonder why the ministry, which is charged with protecting IP, rewarded a company that has been found to be breaking the law. Was the law forgotten in the rush to make money from technology?
The responses of consumers and the music industry to the case are ironic. People downloading music justify it by saying that the music industry charges too much for bad music, adding that even if Kuro were closed down, there would be other sources of pirated music. The music industry on the other hand is not concerned with the complaints of the consumers, and insists on the importance of economic advantage. This only confirms consumers' beliefs that the music industry is only concerned about money.
This is similar to the conflict between capitalists and laborers within a Marxist context. There is nothing modern about it. IP is regarded as a kind of "modern" property. By protecting the property rights of the creative few, a reciprocal relationship is established between creater and consumer. How is it that this has degenerated into a chaotic game of cops and robbers?
Behind Taiwan's high-tech facade there remains plenty of traditional thinking. The man who many regard as the father of Taiwanese literature, Lai Ho (賴和), wrote: "The law, it is such a precious thing, ... but if the law loses its majesty, then those who receive privilege through it, those who feed on it, will surely starve. That's why they keep such a tight hold on it."
Lai was writing during the Japanese occupation. The Japanese used technology to replace Taiwan's gods and spirits, and used the law as a tool of exploitation to establish their superiority here. This policy did not raise the level of society, but instead reinforced the power of superstition and created a love-hate relationship with technology.
Unfortunately, we have not learned from Lai's insights of over 70 years ago. The policy of the Japanese colonial government continues today. This has resulted in Taiwan having a solid technological foundation, but the minds of the people remain in the dark. It is no wonder that Taiwan continues to use technology in ways that differ little from a feudal society, and is headed by a democratic government that is still led by colonial-style exploitation. Hegel's declaration that man learns nothing from history is once again proved true.
Bob Kuo is Professor of Information Systems at the National Sun Yat-sen University.
Translated by Daniel Cheng and Ian Bartholomew
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