Law in the Internet Society

The Internet, Power, and Social Obligation

-- By ShayBanerjee - 10 Dec 2015


The proliferation of the Internet – like the invention of agriculture, the drawing of the written word, and the rise of industrial capitalism – is a historically disruptive techno-cultural development. Like each of those prior events, the Internet has brought with it new freedoms, new forms of expression, and new potentialities for the human race. When communication is freely accessible and outside the control of centralized power, ordinary citizens gain a greater capacity to live, learn, and create, all on their own terms. Yet with every new freedom come new risks, dangers, and forms of exploitation. The Internet is no exception. It is in fact the unprecedented challenges that have arisen in a decentralized, globalized world that are opening the door for the institutions of old to temporarily reclaim their grip on power.

What those institutions will not admit is that their outdated instruments and tactics will never work in a world that has fundamentally changed, so the goal of the free software movement must be to admit it for them. Surveillance will never stop violent extremism. Competing nation-states will never stop climate change. Corporations and corrupt politicians will never reverse wealth inequality. What those problems call for instead is a citizenry that is fully informed, creative, technically capable, and openly collaborative. Insofar as a citizenry that is all those things is mutually exclusive with one that is under surveillance, that is limited by nation-states, and that is manipulated by corporations and corrupt politicians, free software must not just be the end; it must be the means to the end.

What We Are Winning

What we are winning is the spectre that haunts Europe. The masses are gradually coming to terms with the nature of their struggles, and we are ready to provide what they crave. In a world shrouded in darkness, we are shining the light. In a world that grows increasingly cynical, we are the voice of hope and optimism. In a world that has been told to love that which oppresses it, we are providing a path to genuine human freedom.

What Snowden took away is their plausible deniability. The government is spying on us, taking our personal data and using it for their own purposes. The question is no longer “are they doing it?,” but, rather, “is it acceptable?” The whistleblowers we are fighting to protect are forging a world in which governments and corporations will not be able to hide their malfeasance from humanity.

Meanwhile, the masses are losing faith in the capacity of centralized government to solve the really existing problems affecting their lives. All across the world, people are demanding change faster than their governments can provide it. On the one hand, people are turning away from traditional political rhetoric and searching for new kinds of leaders. But more than anything, they are turning their attention online, finding new ways to express their hopes and frustrations. The democratic forum we have been fighting for is opening, slowly but inevitably.

The internal contradiction of capitalist accumulation is coming to fore. Production demands that workers are efficient, but consumption demands they remain distracted. The masses are viscerally disgusted by profit-driven attempts to control their thought-flow and waste their time. Gradually, often unconsciously, they are finding ways to avoid being manipulated. In doing so, they begin to seize control of their own destinies.

What Is Left to Win

What is left to win is a population that understands there is nothing to lose but its chains. The People of Earth are afraid. The challenges they face appear insurmountable to them, so they are turning to the devil they know for solutions. We must fight this inclination by leveraging the resources at our disposal to construct alternative instruments that exercise social force, ones that are grounded in freedom and democracy. It is not enough to construct an open Internet; to win prospects, we must actually use it to solve real-world problems.

In our rush to critique the evils of surveillance, we are allowing its perceived efficacy to go more or less unchallenged. To be clear, the optimal way to enhance security is to give people freedom, not take it away. Surveillance is an ineffective tactic against dedicated combatants. In practice, its usage by governments and profit-driven enterprise serve only to degrade our creative capacity to solve problems. We must substantiate this critique by directing our existing creative machinery and know-how toward promoting liberal and democratic solutions to confront extremism. DDoS attacks show promise here, but such efforts require more participants and we must also develop new solutions along the way.

We must also make the logical connections between privacy and creative democracy, and between creative democracy and innovation, readily obvious by practicing innovation ourselves. Climate change in particular is a problem area for corporations and governments because profit motivation and nationalism are counterproductive. We must attack this pressure point by finding ways to finance and develop clean energy solutions through crowdsourcing. Efforts such as solar roadways have shown that this approach is possible, but we must make it a point of emphasis for members of our community.

Finally, we must foster a generation that is situationally aware and technically capable. The weapons of coding and free information must be presented as such by teachers and mentors who know how. Students must have the freedom to apply Internet technology to the problems around them, not merely the ones that are spoon-fed by classroom exercises and, eventually, corporations. Too much structure can degrade creativity, and we must not allow it to do so.

What Will Remain

What will remain is either a direct democracy built around an empowered citizenry or one built around a citizenry living in fear. Because of what we have already achieved, the nation-state-corporation apparatus is withering away, but it is our task to ensure that humanity is prepared to rise out of the ashes. To get there, however, we must recognize the interdependency of freedom and obligation. The change we need will not come from above, so it must come from within.

This draft is imperfect, but I believe it accurately reflects the materialism I have been searching for. Thank you for giving me the freedom to find it.



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r8 - 15 Jan 2016 - 21:46:07 - ShayBanerjee
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