You want what you can’t have. This fundamental aphorism of human psychology means that full-stop censorship is the wrong approach to hiding ideas and information. The taboo, by definition, makes the information desirable, regardless of whether the content is revelatory or mundane. The insight is that you can use this knowledge on yourself to reshape your own behavior.
China’s great firewall carefully circumvents the want-what-you-can’t-have desire. When I last visited Beijing I tried to access the BBC expecting it to be blocked. Instead, the site came through slowly and erratically. If I waited long enough, refreshed often enough, the page just might come through. Because of the sporadic experience, I found my frustration was directed at the BBC and not at the firewall. Even with a conscious knowledge of what was going on, I had a visceral reaction that it was the BBC’s fault and not a country-wide censor. (more…)