Just to note, my previous post, which referenced Center for a Stateless Society in the headline, was not meant to be a broadside at the organization as a promoter of libertarian triumphalism vis a vis technological inevitability. Tom Knapp, in his latest article at C4SS, seems to think that was my intent.
It appears others are suggesting I’m guilty of committing the fallacy of composition(see comments). My reply is that I was not inferring a general group(C4SS) property from a subclass of one writer but instead critiquing a strain of thought that is fairly ubiquitous across the radical libertarian space that, in this case, was expressed in an article published at C4SS. Really, I’m not saying anything different than what the likes of William Gillis articulated here. Perhaps I’m guilty of the bad headline. I will concede bad journalism but not bad logic. And I will be the first to admit my writing probably violates x known good journalistic practices and could use a good editor. However, I doubt anyone is going to volunteer their services any time soon. In the meantime, I will try to be more sensitive to good journalistic practices when composing my headlines.
Now putting that aside, let me return to Knapp’s article. Surprise, surprise, I have some disagreement with it. Knapp’s treatment, at least in this article, implies the political class is more or less a uniform, single entity. It’s not. For example, I consider the success of Wikileaks to be more of a political hack than a technical hack. Clearly, there could be no “political hack” if there was a single political class. In such a case, Julian Assange would be nothing more than a type of Emmanuel Goldstein Inner Party Psyops creation. I’m not that paranoid, yet. The fact that the political classes are not uniformly trapped in a dilemma to “pull the plug” is why Assange’s political hack can be effective. And we should be clear about something. A political hack that can be effective in engineering a degree of transparency in politics is a threat to politics itself because politics requires a certain level of opaqueness to function. Transparency, to the degree it emerges, would be an emergent property of politically protected document-sourced journalism creating a “prisoner’s dilemma” of sorts for politicians and government officials to rat out policy and each other. To re-paraphrase a classic Lenin quote, “politics is the rope by which the political class will hang itself.”
Where I agree with Knapp is the contention that liberalism(more precisely, liberal institutionalism) is not immune from a true oligarchy. And true oligarchies certainly can “pull the plug,” so to speak. Here I turn to George Orwell. Orwell, in my opinion was a profound political thinker regarding the end game of 20th century political institutions. We should note Orwell thought the end game of liberalism was totalitarianism. One of the points I have tried to make in a few of my posts on this blog is to trace Orwell from a tradition that can be traced back to the Tucker-Shaw debate and the Socialist Calculation debate. Borrowing from Orwell, a true oligarchy can arise from catastrophic liberal institutional failure. Catastrophic liberal institutional failure is marked by a civil detention regime that arises out of a permanent war regime. The permanent war regime creates a Stasis intelligence police state and civil detention is underlain by a “legal formalism” of psychological pathology. The Cold War and the War on Terror has created a vast military industrial and intelligence complex that is immune from any “democratic control.” As I pointed out in this previous post, the psychological pathologic basis of civil detention is now formally recognized by US Law. It is quite rational, and not some ranting of a conspiracy theorist, to worry about the United States being the single greatest to liberty in the world.
And I do have impatience with any sentiment that thinks that “the internet” is going to necessarily save us from “politics.” That’s because I understand how the so-called internet really works. We can talk about de-centralized, distributed networks all we want, but as a wide area network, tcp/ip packet-switched networking relies on quite a bit of collective action resolution of a large number of coordination problems. Frankly, quite a bit of this “collective action” was the product of an informal “government-industry” collaboration(originating from a diverse set of collaborations around the West; contrary to often quoted ignorance, the US government did not “invent” the internet). What today we would call IPv4 is rare example where “government-industry collaboration” proved “beneficial,” primarily because this type of coordination was an example of “planning for competition.” There wasn’t any politics involved for the most part. In a real sense, this is because none of the players(and agency players who had nothing to do with it, but, in retrospect, wished they would have had something to do with it) really quite grasped the shape or significance of the end result. But in the aftermath, the replacement for IPv4, that is the 128 bit IPv6, has been in planning for some time. Unlike IPv4, however, which was sort of an accidental product of planning for competition, IPv6 has been subject much more to politics and “planning against competition.” The NSA, for example, has had their tentacles in the formulation of IPv6 security protocols for over a decade.
This nonsense about “network neutrality” is laughable. There has never been any network neutrality in the “public internet,” with the public internet being marked by the transition from Arpanet to NSFNET. The theoretical OSI routing of packets at the IP layer was effectively ended by the infamous Morris worm(which effectively clogged up the NSFNET backbone by exploiting a buffer overflow in the smtp Sendmail daemons of connected mail hosts). Soon thereafter you would have the introduction of firewall application-layer packet filtering: the end of “network neutrality.” Today, “network neutrality” really means the prohibition of network providers to contract with content providers. Of course, things like the “internet kill switches” are about forcing network providers to protect the copyright content of content providers under threat of unlimited liability if they don’t adopt federal guidelines about traffic filtering. Network neutrality, my ass. In an 128 bit IPv6 world, where collective action becomes subjugated to politics, the internet might more accurately be viewed as potentially an instrument of oligarchical dystopia, not individualist utopia.