Law in the Internet Society

Exposing the politics of the internet society

A basic condition for the necessary expansion of political agitation is the organisation of comprehensive political exposure. ---V.I. Lenin

He does of course mean this only with respect to those out of power. In power, he is just as much aware of the advantages of comprehensive non-exposure as, for example, his successor Czar Vladimir. Mere democrats, on the other hand, might mean something else by the idea.

I agree with that, in case it was not clear. But I think the two are necessarily related, hence the desire to politicise the creator class, who arguable know the most about how the powerful operate in the internet society. Though I would add that I imagine that mere democrats would find common cause with me in comprehensive political exposure of the oppressed.

-- By LizzieOShea - 30 Oct 2015

As power relations begin to ossify in our networked society, activists and critical thinkers are faced with an opportunity and a challenge. A world of unparalleled potential is within the grasp of humanity. Central to this possibility becoming reality, a new class of people is coalescing; this is a future generation in which considerable social and materialist power will reside. This nascent class does not fit with traditional left definitions of class. It is the duty of the left to seize the opportunity to collaborate politically with this class and develop technologically in pursuit of a just society. Failure to do so will lead to a world being built with catastrophic power concentrated in the hands of a few, while the many are left in a squalor that should be a relic of history.

The traditional left thinking

The engagement of the left with the politics of internet society has had its moments. Certainly, left political traditions are well suited to deconstructing state power and cataloguing the virtues of privacy. This has been politically productive, generating movements of activists across traditional divides. Unholy but necessary united fronts have been built between libertarian ideologues and democratic socialists. Together we have begun to craft a narrative that undermines the necessity of state surveillance, drawing on a good amount of somewhat unctuous Orwellian imagery.

But while showing devotion to civil and political freedom, the left is less interested in the question of genuine liberation. A society that is built on and around a network of computers is a society of considerable – really, unprecedented – potential. It creates a possibility of vastly more efficient production, power generation, transportation and less waste. It means that people will have access to better healthcare and education. It is a future of abundance; the opposite of the one of deprivation that too many seem to think is inevitable (whether explicitly or otherwise). There is a reason we call it a hive mind. But contrary to the derogatory implications of such a term, there is something noble, impressive, exciting about this analogy. We have a lot of gain from cultivating swarm intelligence.

The opportunity

The modern internet society presents a choice between socialism and barbarism. This choice comes at the zenith of a transformation is not unlike what occurred during the industrial age, when for the first time, the world began to understand the the collective power of the masses. In the internet society, this has involved collective power of design and production, but also its application to consumption and data collection. This power, and how it is harnessed and exercised, will have a significant impact on the future of our society.

Information technology creators are arguably a new kind of class. They are a minority with the power to create highly valuable capital for the propertied class. They have the capacity to dictate the direction of human endeavour. Currently, they are handsomely remunerated for doing so. But they also have the power to use their labour so that others may no longer have to labour. They sit in a privileged position: they can untether technology from its proprietary fetters, destroy the value of technological capital, and expose the emperor in his horrific nakedness.

Among this class is where we need to have discussions and debate about what a free society looks like, what potential for human liberation is on offer.

The challenge

Building such coalitions will not be easy, old tactics will have become redundant. An effective resistance to the proprietary internet is going to involve innovative thinking and new models of organising. Hacker culture and the coding community – if there is such a thing – has not grown from existing political culture, it is altogether a modern phenomenon. The world of geekery is an unsettling place for people from the world of social, legal and political activism. Credibility derives from such things as knowledge of classical mythology and literature. Such movements prioritise anonymity, autonomy and diffuse activity, which certainly has its benefits, especially when confronting certain foes. But the movement is also less about leaders or structures that facilitate organisational responses. Despite bringing some brazen, impressive guerrilla tactics to internet activism, it is clear that there is internal resistance to this politicisation. As such, there is much that is uncomfortably divisive and unfamiliar.

But this kind of tech-anarchism is just one part of the equation. Parts of the movement are also emerging with great vim and more orthodox design. For these organisational structures to meaningfully collaborate with and even lead the creator class, activists and critical thinkers must actively engage with the movement. So many of those involved in fighting for freedom in a network society are fiercely anti-establishment, motivated by curiosity and a commitment to do no harm. These ideas are the lifeblood of left traditions. These ideas are a unifying force that should mean that movements for digital democracy, in its truest form, are the natural home for radical leftists.

Comprehensive political exposure

The history of critical political thought gives us the tools to organise the comprehensive political exposure of the internet society. Traditional left critiques of power and property actually have a lot to offer in the context of understanding and transforming the world we find ourselves in.

A primary goal must be to map the corporate control of the internet and longitudinally trace alliances which strive to subordinated human emancipation to the pursuit of profit. This is a technical question of actively creating ways for people to live in the internet society without the tax of proprietary software or the dominance of data miners. But it is also a political one of exposing the collaboration of supposedly democratic organs of power with the propertied class. As social and material relations in the internet society are shifting and territory is being claimed, there are opportunities for disruption and agitation. It is possible to set competing, powerful interests off against each other and in doing so, provide insights to the many into the thinking of a few.

From a legal perspective, we have a duty to defend the creator class when they seek to exercise their power for the betterment of humanity. Is it possible to imagine a day in which we defend equivalents of Edward Snowden, prepared to reveal the widespread, insidious wrong that Facebook is doing to and on the internet? Would members of the creator class gainfully employed by Microsoft be prepared to tell the truth about the NSA key,? Can we convince more corporate whistleblowers to expose other skeletons hiding in proprietary closets? And when they do come forward, how can the law serve to give corporate misconduct the same political weight in the minds of citizens as government overreach? The job of lawyers is to offer a structure for the creator class: to create, agitate and strive to maximise the benefits of a networked society for the many. Critically, if we want to encourage these kinds of truth tellers, the profession must commit to defending them when they speak to power.

This process will not be linear. The apiary demonstrates that bees make decisions using swarm intelligence democratically. Democracy is not about consensus. Just like a sustainable future is not about depravity. A networked society has the capacity for abundance that is democratic, but we will have to fight for it.

The point, I take it, is that scientific socialism welcomes the transformation of human society in the direction of higher efficiency and better equality in the division of welfare, set against the caste implications of hive structure if not of hive mind, and as always somewhat ambivalent about civil liberties to the extent that they reinforce existing privilege.

So the places to look are clear enough: (1) how to ensure a commitment to human equality, in which the self-development of each is the self-development of all, rather than a system of "customized" regimentation that rewards with immortality the privileges of those who control those who control the machines; and (2) how to instantiate respect for the inviolable civil liberties of individual human beings in a system whose technological realities deny the fragile human sense of free will?

I have tried to make my Lenin more active, and avoid chastisement for technological determinism. But some of my points in response to your feedback remain obscure; I think I am perhaps trying to make too many in the space available. I will need to come back to revise, but wanted to provide an updated draft.

I agree that you achieved these purposes in the revision. The idealist naturalism involved in "bee democracy" doesn't seem to me entirely satisfactory. From Mandeville on, we see in bees whatever we need to see in ourselves. But they remain social insects, not social primates, and "democracy" seems to me poorly to capture the world of arthropod sociality.

So far as the essay's further revision is concerned, I'm not sure what the stake is. I think the idea you are seeking to convey is clear enough and forcefully enough put. The remaining editorial question, I think, is whether it would be clearer with less theoretical machinery rather than more.

Duly noted and I have sought to trim away some of this in response, for what it is worth.

We do have corporate whistleblowers, actually, and the question of how lawyers can help them pursue their activities is less a theoretical and more a practical subject, on which many lawyers are directly and consistently engaged.

I take that point, but would argue that the understanding many people have of the internet has been shaped much more by Edward Snowden than any corporate whistleblower (the nuance of this I should have allocated more space to and have thus edited as best I can). I am interested in why this is the case. And how such revelations could be transformed into a campaign for change. I am arguing that increased corporate whistleblowing would help.

For them, the question might be posed, how much does Lenin know about what is to be done?

Of course, Lenin sees little hope in the State, so I think I'm going to struggle to convince many lawyers of his particular cause. But that does not detract from the usefulness of his critique. I think better organisation of the creator class and a greater effort by the left to do this would be some good first steps that flow from this critique. There is more that can be done that is worth discussing, though probably not within the space I have.


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r6 - 16 Jan 2016 - 15:33:56 - LizzieOShea
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