The neutralization of harmony: the problem of technological neutrality, east and west

Author: Marcelo Thompson

In: Boston University Journal of Science and Technology Law, 2011, v. 18 n. 2, p. 303-342.

Abstract: Technological neutrality in law is, roughly, the idea that law should not pick technological winners and losers, that law should neither help nor hinder particular types of technological artefacts. It has become a pervasive idea in technology law and politics in the West and now forces itself upon the World Trade Organization as a means of preventing China from regulating its territorial Internet. This paper examines the idea of technological neutrality for both its internal coherence and its relationship with the dominant politico-philosophical traditions of our time – the liberal and the Confucian. In doing so, the paper points at how liberalism itself has been transformed in contemporary societies, the role that information and communication technologies play in this transformation and shows how technological neutrality threatens at the same time the developments of contemporary liberalism and liberalism’s reconciliation with the Confucian value system. The paper invites us to question technological neutrality through its relations with political neutrality, a doctrine that has lost significant grounds in contemporary liberal philosophy post-communitarian critique and which is fundamentally opposed to the ethico-political traditions of Chinese societies. On an applied level, the paper invites us to abandon ideas of neutrality in technology law and politics in general and, in particular, provides a hopefully compelling argument for China to resist attempts to neutralize its value-system and nation-building project through the system of international trade.

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