After finishing up my most recent post, “Regulating the Panopticon,” I became aware of this fascinating 3 hour interview discussion featuring Julian Assange, Jacob Appelbaum, Andy Müller-Maguhn and Jeremie Zimmermann on Russia Today. This special 3 hour episode of Assange’s “The World Tomorrow” was dubbed “The Cyberpunks.”
Now if you haven’t already guessed, I am quite sympathetic to the hacker movement. Indeed, I would say I much greater sympathy for that movement than for the general libertarian movement which I find to be largely incoherent, inextricably conservative and obsessed with fighting old turf wars(e.g., Keynes vs Hayek, a topic which has long outlived its general relevance)1. In particular, I am often flummoxed by the contentions of the leading luminaries of this movement that deny the US is a police state. To boot, we are additionally informed that we are living in a time of unprecedented freedom, justified usually by appeals to technological advances.
Now I would suggest that one’s failure of discernment regarding the status of the United States is a good indication of one posing no challenge to the status quo. If one were actually challenging it, one would probably have a different perspective on the matter. The gathered cyberpunks are actually challenging it. So you will find they have a bit of different opinion regarding the police state practices of the United States government. To wit, from my understanding, Jeremie Zimmermann was interrogated by the FBI when he entered the United States after sitting for this interview in London.
Judging by my stats, my previous 2 posts were traffic failures. Well, perhaps I’m just a bad writer, but the underlying message is important. So to save you from having to digest the verbosity, the summary would be: the internet provides the regime change mechanism for a political competition in technology: a rent-seeking game in data analytics. Data analytics is the last remaining frontier where competition is not outlawed. A political economy in data analytics results in the Panopticon.2 I would encourage you to watch the above linked Assange episode. It greatly expands on this theme. So my writing may be boring. But you will not find that episode boring. Trust me.
Some Show Observations
Julian Assange is a doctrinaire liberal/libertarian but the others are not. Nonetheless, all four participants agreed that political reform was impossible and pointless. The consensus among the four was that the only means to combat the problem of the surveillance State is alternative institutions in economics, currency, etc. I find this interesting because it sort of illuminates an ongoing debate regarding the need/value of libertarian education. I would contend that libertarianism doesn’t have an educational problem. Rather, it has an empirical problem of revolution. American libertarianism will likely educate you into incoherence. But those who are actively involved in challenging the status quo, those who have no particularly affinity for the “capitalism” of american libertarianism, can see the problem quite clearly.
Toward the end, a bit of disagreement broke out regarding the ultimate foundation of freedom. Assange took the position that it ultimately rests with Free Trade. The others were not quite in agreement. But I would take Assange’s position. I ascribe to a method of libertarian class theory. Often, I think this method is misrepresented as the productive vs the unproductive or the taxpayers vs the tax eaters. That is the wrong way to think of it. It is simply Free Trade vs Political Economy. The economic life of Laissez Faire vs the economic life under the compliant auspices of the Polis. So I have to go with “free trade.” Free Speech is not the ultimate foundation of freedom in the observable sense of what the State can and cannot tolerate. It can tolerate “free speech.” It cannot tolerate “free trade.”
One particular observation from the cyberpunks might shed a little bit of light on this recent David Gordon criticism of left libertarianism. Gordon states that there is no midpoint between capitalism and socialism. By this he means economics is merely a duel world between capitalism and socialism. Monopoly status or legal monopoly pricing advantage is socialism. Everything else is capitalism. States Gordon:
As Mises again and again insisted, there is no third system intermediate between capitalism and socialism. The fact that a business has gotten to its position through government aid does not by itself change the way it sets prices. Neither is it the case that large firms operate by setting monopolistic or oligopolistic prices rather than competitive ones. (Of course, if government regulations set prices, or give a business the legal power to set prices, that is another matter altogether.) It is also not the case that wage determination rests on bargaining power: as Mises and Rothbard see matters, zones of indeterminacy are mythical.
To me, Gordon’s statement is why I would defect from capitalism as so defined. More specifically, it illuminates the difference Laissez Faire and Capitalism. I would contend that Mises/Gordon position is the wrong duel world. The political economy of prices, whether they are set by the Walrasian auctioneer or by competing firms, is not the illuminating question. The better question is who is the agency that sets the markets, not the prices. That is the Laissez Faire duel world. Gordon’s method really can’t explain why you would even have political competition. Since (1) political competition rarely results in monopoly price setting and (2) political competition without the advantage of monopoly has no bearing on competitive price setting (3) you really can’t explain political competition by the simple socialist-capitalist dualism model regarding a price-setter.
To return to the cyberpunks, it was pointed out that Russia had tried to bargain, but failed, to get Mastercard/Visa to process Russian credit card transactions in Russia. Why? Because all credit card transactions, including all global transactions, processed by Mastercard/Visa are immediately surveilled by the NSA. Within X number of minutes, every credit transaction by Putin and other members of the Russian political class is known and tracked by the US intelligence agencies(thus perhaps explaining why RT is the most libertarian oriented network broadcasting in the United States).
Now is this an example of capitalism or socialism? Mastercard and Visa do not have the monopoly power as price-setters to set transaction fees, but they do have the bargaining power that every single global banking credit card transaction will be interfaced with US Intelligence. This is oligopoly, but it is not the oligopoly of a price-setter. It is the oligopoly of the market setter. But this has to be considered capitalism according to Gordon.I would suggest that the (radical) Public Choice model of the economic governance of the total firm would be a far more predictive model here. But Gordon is still stuck in the Misean historical context of the Socialist calculation debates(which Mises lost,btw. One of Oskar Lange’s criticism of Mises’ tight compartmentalization between capitalism and socialism roughly followed the same line of argument I’m pointing out now).
1 obviously, any coder knows that the technical community has its own cherished pastime of platform turf wars. But at least this debate can played out in some semblance of an empirical arena: the marketplace.
2 A secondary theme perhaps relates a bit to the current "Spontaneous Orders" series being published by Roderick Long. We define a "Spontaneous Order" in a technical sense of complexity theory as emergent regulatory properties of complex systems. A Spontaneous Order then is a resilient order. The Internet could be defined as an efficient Hayekian Hybrid Constructivist Order derived from a principle of “planned competition.” The degree of efficiency of the Hybrid Haykekian Order introduces a scale-free, small network that follows a power law distribution(at least in the asymptotic limit) that is self-regulating. The tension between constructivism and emergent order is that while the network can regulate itself it nonetheless cannot defend itself particularly well against (external)constructivist intervention. The degree of efficiency of our evolved small network can be expropriated by a power consuming constructivist agency. I believe this argument is sort of similar to the published critique of Part III in that series.
A summary of Part I: Our current internet implementation is a product of the “rule of convention,” not the “rule of law.” The application of “the rule of law,” either from the typical conservative or progressive perspective, will erode the internet–the small network–from serving any means other than surveillance and control.
Secondly, our “rule of convention” is not a pure “spontaneous order.” It’s more of a hybrid “constructivist order” along the lines of Hayek’s “Planning for Competition.” A question then is whether the degree of efficiency gained from this constructivist contribution turns out to be a blessing or a curse. In other words, there is evolutionary artificiality in our current degree of network efficiency. With this level of efficiency, what we do want is rules begetting rules(or conventions). But what we want to avoid is rules begetting laws.
No Rule of Law for Network Neutrality
By design, the tcp/ip protocol does not rely on the transport layer for routing. Routers can simply process packets at either the link layer(the physical medium layer of the link, known as “the wire”) or the IP layer. The transport layer is only processed by the end hosts(or terminal nodes). In principle, then, the network doesn’t need know the details upper layer protocols being transported. A routing node need only strip off the link layer encapsulation of packet, examine the destination IP Address, lookup its routing tables to figure out how to route the packet–that is, what link or interface it should re-place the packet on–and re-encapsulate in a frame for the given physical link. Routing nodes do not need to know the type of payload being delivered-whether web or mail, etc) or tcp socket details that govern the implementation of reliable network transmission.
But this is a convention that does not hold up in the real world. The ideal prototype of “network neutrality” was shattered by the 1988 “Morris Worm” that exploited a buffer overflow in the unix fingerd daemon and a default option security flaw in the sendmail daemon to clog up the then nascent internet backbone. The threat of a rogue email worm was prescient because today it is still largely email that makes “transport layer neutrality” unworkable. To me, the very term “network neutrality” is a misnomer. The more accurate term is indeed “transport layer neutrality.” And any ISP or Telco that practices “transport layer neutrality” as a network policy will soon be out of business. Just for the simple problem of SPAM. Imagine your are inundated with spam(you may already be, but imagine the problem orders of magnitude worse) and you call up your ISP to complain but you are rebutted with the response: “Sorry customer, but we practice a policy of Network Neutrality.” That answer would be unacceptable. And it would be stupid.
The very usability, reliability and security of the public network depends on a robust implementation of “transport layer heuristic discrimination.” But our heuristic rules are not the product of any rule of law. Indeed it is silly to think of adjudicating the problem of SPAM, rogue computer programs, “phishing,” and other “violations” of unwanted network traffic by calling up your local sheriff, your local cops, the FBI, etc. What the fuck are they going to do other than perhaps subject your own system to a “forensic analysis” which potentially can land your ass in jail(remember, everyone is guilty of committing 3-5 federal crimes a day). Simply, the traditional model of the State as a formal compliance mechanism to ensure the “regularity” of a system does not apply here(does it ever apply?). The assurance of the “regularity” and usability of the System derives from the heuristic network rules adopted and implemented by the Telcos, network providers, ISPs, Datacenters, etc. The source of the rules is convention and practice, not legislation.1
Given the reality and necessity of “transport layer discrimination” to ensure the regular functioning of the network, it seems a bit farcical to talk of the need of “legislation” to enforce “network neutrality.” What really is at stake here is a political definition of “allowable traffic” and the erection of centralized compliance mechanisms to enforce a policy of political economy. Why in the world would you want to transplant a working, heuristic rules regimes that operates perfectly fine by convention over to one governed by a legal regime spawned from a rent-seeking game? There is no “necessary” reason for this. The argument of the supposed the threat of the integration of access and platform is a nonexistent problem. I discussed this in some detail in part I. Recall that the early dominant players in the commercial phase of the internet played a strategy of leveraging access for controlling platform. It was a losing strategy. Those early players are mostly gone now. The mega deal of the 1990s, the merger of Time Warner and AOL, which was supposed to be the ultimate execution of this strategy, ranks as perhaps the worst business transaction in corporate history.
But I can say, without hesitation, that if a heuristic network policy of traffic discrimination is replaced by a formal policy emanating from a rent-seeking legal regime, then the only real human freedom likely to remain will simply be the freedom to obey. Liberalism would have engineered a final panopticon social order for the human race.
Data Analytics Regime Change
In a recent debate between Peter Thiel and Google CEO Eric Schmidt, Thiel argued that Google had more or less become a public utility company. Thiel’s argument was that Google was out of ideas and was now using its monopoly position of dominance attained from a network effect in “Search” to invest its cash reserves in US Government paper. Thiel then wove this observation into broader argument that technology has failed to dramatically improve the general standard of living for the average person the past generation because the State had outlawed innovation in everything but information and bits–meaning computers and finance. In particular, Thiel bemoaned the outlawing of innovation in energy production.
Schmidt, of course, disagreed. Schmidt stressed the need for more education to maintain “competitiveness,” the need of the State to manage the demographics of entitlement spending, and played up the wonderful information technological opportunities presented by “data-analytics.”
The over-arching theme of the debate perhaps was the attempt to explain the current “stagflation.” I generally have no problem explaining the stagflation because I’m not aware of any political economic theory that seriously can argue a police state as a model of economic prosperity. So I would have to come down on the side of Thiel. Indeed, Thiel’s argument reminded me of an older post, Modeling Capitalist Regime Change, that I wrote a couple of years ago. In that post I used “complexity theory” as a model of political economy, noting: (1) technological singularities for human progress are tied to infrequent(countably infrequent, namely “two” so far–fire and fossil fuels) energy advancements (2) the information age is not a singularity because binary state machines are still tied to fossil fuels as an energy source (3) capitalism itself can be modeled as a complex system that periodically has to undergo “phase transitions, or “regime transitions,” because political economic rent seeking(creating moral hazard) results in a dampening of negative feedback loops. A predominance of positive feedback loops creates the need for increasing intervention measures to maintain resiliency. The system generally has to transition to new regime eventually to avoid consuming every last resource to protect the old brittle, non-resilient regime from catastrophic consequences of even minor disturbances(the “price of tea” in China).
In this complexity model we find that the political economy of capitalism isn’t really the engine of human progress it is often given credit for. It is really just a top-layer progression of regime transitions driven by political economic rent-seeking. Each successive transition is not a measure of human progress. Rather each is a necessity to avoid the catastrophic regime consequences of enforcing the previous regime.
So our “stagflation” can perhaps be better explained by the fact that we have no new regime to transition to. We are still propping up the old one. One of Thiel’s points was that now that “finance” had been outlawed, we are only left with “computer technology” as the basis of our new regime and this isn’t the foundation for anything other than serving a narrow economic interest. Of course, he was pointing at Eric Schmidt. And, of course, the narrow economic interest is “data-analytics.”
There are two essential directions of computing. One would be the cloud. And we are not merely talking about data. We are also talking about the application service layer. The second would be the move from IPv4 to IPv6. The former is a 32-bit addressing scheme that gives us roughly 4×109 nodes on the network. The latter is a 128-bit addressing scheme that would allow 4×1038 addressable nodes on the network. The exponential order of magnitude increase in addressable network nodes can hardly be comprehended or visually grasped by the human brain. The conceptual model(the thing that can be intuitively grasped) simply reduces to a statement that everything produced will be network addressable(with a permanent address). A number that large exceeds the total number molecules on the surface of the earth so certainly we are talking about the a future of network addressable nanotechnology.
A reason for great pessimism is that a political economic regime built over data analytics results in a prison. Innovation in this area within the context of a complexity capitalist model that is only “regulated” by positive feedback mechanisms is probably the type of innovation you want to avoid. The prospect of a IPv6 networked world should rightly scare the shit out of you. The consequences of this world really depends on its implementation. Obviously, the prospect of everything being permanently network addressable and subject to relentless data-analytics is orders of magnitude even beyond Orwell. However, this reality could be avoided or highly mitigated against by implementing the privacy features of IPv6, including data anonymization policies. The trick is that these anonymization algorithms have to be implemented by your network provider. And this algorithmic masking occurs at the network layer. So, as we see, IPv6, in terms of any privacy considerations, requires the network provider to operate algorithmically at the network layer. The notion of “network neutrality” is further seen to be a completely straw-man concept.
Why the US Government is Militarizing the Internet
By now it should be clear that the actual threat to the internet is not the integration of access and platform but rather the subjugation of convention and practice to the “rule of law.” That is to say, the greatest threat to the internet is the de-civilization of network administration under a formal legal compliance regime. IPv6 gives us the panopticon outcome if network policy is placed under such a formal regime. Your networked existence boils down to what type of competition determines the algorithmic masking at the network layer. The political competition solution paves the way for a “data-analytics” regime change.
If we take our theory seriously, it is not surprising that the US Military is actively engaged in militarizing the internet. It is actively and brazenly involved in disseminating rogue computer programs and remote system penetration for the expressed purpose of heightening the threat of the public network as an instrument of war. This in turn will result in some legal overhaul that will put the civil administration of the public network under a formal legal compliance regime under the guise of National Security.
We proffer A Declaration of the Separation of Internet and State because a political economy applied to the public network results in a panopticon social order. The original implementation may have been a hybrid, constructivist example of Hayek’s “Planning for Competition,” but the subsequent order demonstrates the threat of “planning against competition.” A glimpse of this future world can be had observing this recent action by Cisco. That action by Cisco was beat down and reversed by the outcry of its customer base. But when it is enforced by a formal “rule of law,” there isn’t much recourse. As of now, consider that just to be a dry run…
1 Unfortunately, this is not entirely true. Most will at least give lip service and pretense to enforcing copyright and pornography statute violations with respect to network. But it is mostly pretense. After all, tech support call centers aren’t there to process customer complaints of copyright violations over the network.
Recently, there have been no less than three “Internet Freedom Manifestos” issued by libertarian and civil libertarian groups/coalitions.
Declaration of Internet Freedom Civil Libertarian
Noted Signatories: Free Press, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Mozilla, ACLU, Netroots Nation
Declaration of Internet Freedom Libertarian/Conservative
Noted Signatories: CEI, Americans for Tax Reform, Randy Barnett, Virginia Postrel
The Technology Revolution
Campaign for Liberty
The latter two statements were, in some sense, motivated by the first statement. But all three declarations of purported “Internet Freedom” are flawed.
The problem with the first declaration is the incoherence of duel objectives. Is the objective (1) increased access or (2) refraining from censorship and the protection of open standards? Anything that increases the responsibility of State Actors–promoting greater access–likewise increases its authority. Is increased State authority the best means to achieve an ends of no censorship and the protection of open standards? In addition, it is is greatly muddied by the participation of overtly partisan political groups whose sole objective is the increase of party authority and power. Groups like the ACLU, Mozilla, and EFF should resist being lumped in with partisan politicos like DailyKos and Netroots Nation.
The second statement, penned more or less as a response to the first, promotes a vision of the internet concerned solely with “the process of technological evolution, not the end result.” Of course, what if the end result is an efficient totalitarian surveillance order? You can have plenty of technological evolution and innovation toward that end. The promoted regulation regime is the typical conservative clap trap of the “rule of law” spliced with conservative economic rhetoric a la “open systems and networks aren’t always better for consumers.” Even worse, this group casts the conflict over internet freedom in terms of Thomas Sowell’s “liberal unconstrained” vs “conservative constrained” model. This thusly places the future of “internet freedom” in the palms of conservative cultural politics(and the conservative casting of “free markets”).
The third statement, authored by the Campaign for Liberty, reads like a crass piece of political opportunism penned by a Rand Paul flunkie. The degree of technological illiteracy and historical ignorance in that brief statement of principles is laughable. The implication that internet is a product of Microsoft(and others like them) innovation and the primary role of the State vis-a-vis the internet is to enforce Microsoft’s property rights.
In a previous post, “The Enforceable Obligations of IP and Copyright in Political Economy,” I discussed the actual role government played in our current internet implementation. The role was significant but, nonetheless, a largely informal one centered around a coordination problem of standards. The end consequence, however, was neither particularly intended nor centrally planned. The typical progressive clap trap that the Government invented “the internet” only applies to our current implementation. It certainly cannot be extended to a proposition that there would be no “packet-switch networking” if not for the State. And whatever progressive pride there is to take in the (informal) role the State played in the evolution of our current implementation is immediately cancelled by the fact that the State immediately began to formally enact measures to artificially exclude access to the one honest to god public good it accidentally managed to help create-human intellectual property. The progressive triumph leads to its own empirical refutation.
But I find C4L’s claptrap that our current implementation would somehow be the product of “decentralized” Microsoft innovation to be equally vulgar.
The degree of standardization required to create any degree of wide scale computer networking interoperability is substantial. For our current implementation, there were essentially two competing models in play: (1) tcp/ip, which originated out of DARPA, (2) OSI model originating from the European ISO(International Standard Organization). I would argue that tcp/ip became the dominant global standard as a consequence of the US Department of Defense declaring tcp/ip as the standard for military computing in the early 80s. The Arpanet thusly would soon switch to tcp/ip. This began to create a vendor lock-in as a consequence. Sun Microsystems began to build tcp/ip into the core of UNIX. The last piece of the puzzle involves the NSFNet evolving into the core of the first true “internet backbone.” The National Science Foundation’s project to link together academic research over it’s funded super-computer research centers–with the mandate that any university that received NSF funding to connect to network run tcp/ip over its own network–probably put tcp/ip over the top. This led to the European academic and scientific research centers to throw in the towel regarding tcp/ip adoption, even though the Europeans were heavily vested in their own OSI implementation. But fittingly, the killer app that would turn the internet into a large-scale commercial space for ordinary users and not just a domain for academics and hackers(and enthusiasts)–originated from CERN.
If we return to Microsoft, it should be noted that its a bit of a running joke of how badly Bill Gates mid 1990s book, “The Road Ahead” misjudged the coming dominance of the internet. Gates primarily referred to “the Information Super Highway” in his book and only saw “the internet” as a subset of sorts. What gates envisioned is what the “Microsoft Network” originally was, a commercial model extending a model pioneered by the likes of CompuServe, Prodigy, AOL, etc… in offering a proprietary “gated” portal community. Originally, these network providers operated over X.25 networks and were expanding by offering gateway(“gated”) access to the internet. Gates vision was how the Windows Desktop would become the commercial platform(“the window”, so to speak) to the information superhighway.
But the killer app turned out to be the “browser,” and the killer application protocol turned out to be HTTP delivering content semantically marked up in HTML. I would classify the primary pioneers responsible for the “quantum jump” of the internet to be:
(i) Tim Berners-Lee: Developed the HTTP Protocol specification(a tcp/ip specification) and a relatively simplified document markup language(HTML, a much more simplified language derived from the general ISO standard SGML)
(ii) Linus Torvalds: the first to make a “unix-like” kernel available for intel PC boxes. The kernel core for what we call “Linux”
(iii) Marc Andreessen, founder of Netscape, the company that developed the first “browser” with in-line multi-media display capability.
So Berners-Lee provided the app protocol specification. Torvalds’ contribution was on the server-side: unix-like boxes running on cheap PCs that allowed for inexpensive server scalability for hosting/delivering tcp/ip applications. And Andreessen’s contribution was on the client-side: turning the browser more or less into a consumer appliance. Of course, it should be mentioned that the original codebase for the Netscape Navigator browser, in part, stems from Andreessen’s work at the National Center for Computing Applications(operating from a grant by the US Government as a consequence of federal legislation passed in the early 1990s. Al Gore’s prominent role in the passage of the legislation is really the historical basis of his “I invented the internet” lore).
The end result was the quick death of Bill Gates’ original vision: the gated portal version of “the information superhighway.” Gated Portal means the integration of “ISP/Access and Platform.” The likes of CompuServe, Prodigy would fade. The corporate merger between AOL and Time Warner ranks as one of the worst business decisions of all time. Instead we saw, after the “privatization of the internet backbone,” explosive growth in bandwidth capabilities, with the Telcos becoming the ISPs(the access providers). The “browser” became the platform. The web application became the portal. Yahoo was an early example of what would become the “web portal.”
To give Bill Gates some credit, it should be noted he would soon realize his original “Road Ahead” was a dead-end. Microsoft would revamp around the “internet.” The “Microsoft Network” became the web portal, “MSN.” Microsoft would quickly launch its own browser, “Internet Explorer.” Of course, I’m not sure how many people are aware that Microsoft didn’t build IE from scratch. It was based on a codebase licensed from the National Center for Computing Applications. IE wasn’t free of that code until version 7.0. I’m pretty sure the flunkies at Campaign for Liberty don’t know this. Otherwise, it’s pretty embarrassing to have to spend time deflecting charges that Al Gore invented “Internet Explorer.”
This is already a long post but the length doesn’t even come close to doing justice to the topic at hand. Open, coordinated Standards are at the foundation of the internet as a small network. To the extent that they are artificial, then the internet is “artificial.”
Contra Declaration II: open, coordinated standards are not in evolutionary, market competition with closed systems. Not over the internet as small network.
Contra Declaration III: Open, coordinated Standards are not the artificial consequence of collectivist, government enforcement.
The underlying text of Statement I is one of network neutrality. The argument is that integration of Access and Platform is a threat to the “open internet.” Statements II,III, which are being presented as the “libertarian response,” are not serious statements. Indeed, they are just more evidence that libertarianism’s continued alignment with conservatism will result in the movement writing its own death warrant.
But what should be a coherent libertarian response to Statement I? I would contend that “State Neutrality” is the more relevant and pressing condition for the continuation of an “open internet.” And the increasingly necessary condition for State Neutrality is the separation of Internet & State. This will be the topic addressed in part II.
What’s the most libertarian-oriented network that broadcasts in the United States today? The answer is Russia Today. But the Russian regime is hardly any exemplar of libertarianism. Quite the opposite, actually. Indeed, the brute characteristics of the Russian regime has led some conservative commentators to denounce RT as an insidious propaganda tool against the US. But the propaganda directed against the US is actually true.
No doubt, if we had MSNBC-Russia or Fox-Russia, specifically broadcasting to a Russian audience, those network subsidiaries would be very libertarian-oriented. They would be continuously informing the Russian public about the hypocrisy and crimes of the Russian regime. Russian nationalists and patriots would accuse those networks as being agents of seditious propaganda. But the propaganda would be true, nonetheless.
But, of course, we know that MSNBC and Fox are slavish legitimizers of their own regimes. Likewise, we know RT is not in the business of de-legitimizing Putin.
So what we have is an example of hacking plutocracy. And we know it is hackable because the plutocrats are busy trying to hack it themselves. This political “hackability” of plutocracy is really the strategic basis of the whole document-sourced journalism concept. I discussed this dynamic in a whole series posts back in 2010. The intent of Julian Assange(who, of course, I don’t know personally, so I can only divine intent from his writings, statements, and actions) was to use document-source journalism as a means to put governments in a type of liberal political competition(Assange most definitely is a liberal in the philosophic sense). But any “liberal outcome” would be a consequence of a political dynamic and not a legal one. As I wrote in my old post, The Revolutionary as Entrepreneur :
The political hack is not so much cherry-picking laws from jurisdictions to create some sort of international tapestry of legal protection outside the jurisdiction of any one State, but rather more of a hack of playing competing legal jurisdictions off one another to protect itself from ex post legal interpretations or legal changes for prosecution by any one jurisdiction. This makes it more of a political hack than a legal hack.
Certainly, Assanges’s current appeal to Ecuador for political asylum is an example of this. Ecuador itself is hardly a liberal(legally speaking) paradigm.
But we do have to express some disappointment that “document-sourced journalism” has seemingly been stalled. Our friends at CNN are only glad to give us a synopsis why: See yourself as the next Assange? Good luck. I would offer up my own summary that in part dovetails with the CNN one.
(i) the US and The Western Global Financial System will cut off any legal avenue for the necessary financial means to support any viable document-sourced journalism operation
(ii) As a result of (i), the contextual expertise needed to sift through the (often massive) leaked documents largely can only be found with vertically integrated corporate structures subject to same problem of (i). That is, individual agents can execute a political hack sans a legal one, but vertically integrated global corporations cannot. Hence, our global corporate media agents now are dropping their planned entrance into this space.
(iii) individual agents can perhaps hack a political defense against “political charges” but the political hack may very dissipate if the charges are “sex crimes.” This, by the way, is hardly paranoia or conspiracy theory. George Orwell, who I consider the greatest political commentator of the 20th century, laid it out very clearly that accusation of sexual pathology was Standard Operating Procedure by the regime against “enemies of the State.”
The summary of the summary is this: politics may be hackable but capital is not. Politics is plutocratic but capital has become largely oligarchical. Simply, if someone like Assange cannot be charged legally with a “crime against the State,” but Wkileaks nonetheless can be cut off from the Global financial banking system, then this is exhibit A of a definition of oligarchy of capital. Not only is Capitalism been severed as a necessary condition for political freedom, but Assange and Wikileaks threaten to demonstrate that Capitalism is converging to a sufficient condition for a denial of political freedom. You doubt this? Well, simply read this recent editorial by the Washington Post that advocates a proper course of action if Ecuador grants Assange political asylum: revoke Ecuador’s “free trade” status.
Simply, if the oligarchy of capital is sufficient to stall out document-sourced journalism, then we shouldn’t expect an extradition of Assange by the US Government. Frankly, that would be stupid because it would be exactly that kind of outrageous politically motivated action that could spur DSJ back into major play. If the US was going to charge Assange with a “legal crime,” they could have already done so and extradited him directly from the UK.
For those who continue to put capitalism at the root of political legitimization, the case of Assange and Wikileaks should serve as a cautionary counter-factual of why that position may need to be re-evaluated.
As a side note, I would like to extend my congratulations to Michael Moynihan for his current gig with the Washington Post. A “libertarian” writer I would most associate with de-legitimizing ” western dissidents,” and a media organization that perhaps best represents the “capitalist” version of the Kremlin is a very predictable thing to behold. Onward “golden age…”
Orwell, from his tract, “The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism,” in Nineteen Eighty-Four, prophesying how the “progress of human history” terminates. Orwell only failed to foresee the “new aristocracy” composing the guest list for Friday night comedy produced by Oceania’s largest media conglomerate(or second largest–who really knows). Of course, hosted by a comic who traded in his comedy for a baseball team.
It was only after a decade of national wars, civil wars, revolutions, and counter-revolutions in all parts of the world that Ingsoc and its rivals emerged as fully worked-out political theories. But they had been foreshadowed by the various systems, generally called totalitarian, which had appeared earlier in the century, and the main outlines of the world which would emerge from the prevailing chaos had long been obvious. What kind of people would control this world had been equally obvious. The new aristocracy was made up for the most part of bureaucrats, scientists, technicians, trade-union organizers, publicity experts, sociologists, teachers, journalists, and professional politicians. These people, whose origins lay in the salaried middle class and the upper grades of the working class, had been shaped and brought together by the barren world of monopoly industry and centralized government. As compared with their opposite numbers in past ages, they were less avaricious, less tempted by luxury, hungrier for pure power, and, above all, more conscious of what they were doing and more intent on crushing opposition. This last difference was cardinal. By comparison with that existing today, all the tyrannies of the past were half-hearted and inefficient. The ruling groups were always infected to some extent by liberal ideas, and were content to leave loose ends everywhere, to regard only the overt act and to be uninterested in what their subjects were thinking. Even the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages was tolerant by modern standards. Part of the reason for this was that in the past no government had the power to keep its citizens under constant surveillance. The invention of print, however, made it easier to manipulate public opinion, and the film and the radio carried the process further. With the development of television, and the technical advance which made it possible to receive and transmit simultaneously on the same instrument, private life came to an end. Every citizen, or at least every citizen important enough to be worth watching, could be kept for twenty-four hours a day under the eyes of the police and in the sound of official propaganda, with all other channels of communication closed. The possibility of enforcing not only complete obedience to the will of the State, but complete uniformity of opinion on all subjects, now existed for the first time.