December 2010

Politics and Technology and The media23 Dec 2010 at 12:56 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Bruce Sterling just wrote a wonderful melancholic essay on cypherpunks, Wikileaks, Julian Assange and the human society that forms their milieu. It may be the best piece so far to capture the character of Julian Assange.

Glancing over the comments, I stopped on this one – here is an extract:

[..] the people that run the governments of the world don’t get it at all. As the old guard “nationalists” die off there will be less and less reaction to this kind of thing to the point where it’s happening so much most things are just lost in the noise. I’m younger than Bruce, but not by much, however I know this much that he doesn’t seem to, in a world where the population has grown up with Facebook/MySpace/etc there is not even the expectation of privacy or secrets. Get over it. People will again have to start actually being polite to one another, or they’ll be exposed for all to see.

Personally, I do not believe that information which is solely classified because it’s embarrassing to a government should be. I also believe that people that work for the government should be honor bound to report when crimes are being committed, and that supersedes ALL other directives. Until we reach that state we will not have grown into adults as a society. Right now governments behave as children without adults behave. Read Lord of the Flies.

I disagree with him about expectations of privacy from the Facebook generation, but the rest rings true to me. But what hit me as I read it is his remark that “Ppople will again have to start actually being polite to one another, or they’ll be exposed for all to see” : this immediately reminded me of this Heinlein quote:

“An armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life” – Robert A. Heinlein

One may not agree with Heinlein about whether citizens bearing arms is a good idea, but the fact is that the balance of power that was previously wholly on the side of the governments has just been slightly tipped back toward the citizens.

Will that make governments more polite toward their citizens ?

Brain dump and Knowledge management and Networking & telecommunications and Technology16 Dec 2010 at 13:19 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Piled Higher & Deeper and Savage Chickens nailed it (thanks redditors for digging them up) : we spend most of our waking hours in front of a computer display – and they are not even mentioning all the screens of devices other than a desktop computer.

According to a disturbing number of my parent’s generation, sitting in from of a computer makes me a computer scientist and what I’m doing there is “computing”. They couldn’t be further from the truth : as Edsger Dijkstra stated, “computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes”.

The optical metaphor doesn’t stop there – the computer is indeed transparent: it is only a windows to the world. I wear my glasses all day, and that is barely worth mentioning – why would using a computer all day be more newsworthy ?

I’m myopic – without my glasses I feel lost. Out of my bed, am I really myself if my glasses are not connected to my face ?

Nowadays, my interaction with the noosphere is essentially computer-mediated. Am I really myself without a network-attached computer display handy ? Mind uploading still belongs to fantasy realms, but we are already on the way toward it. We are already partly uploaded creatures, not quite whole when out of touch with the technosphere, like Manfred Macx without his augmented reality gear ? I’m far not the only one to have been struck by that illustration – as this Accelerando writeup attests :

“At one point, Manfred Macx loses his glasses, which function as external computer support, and he can barely function. Doubtless this would happen if we became dependent on implants – but does anyone else, right now, find their mind functioning differently, perhaps even failing at certain tasks, because these cool things called “computers” can access so readily the answers to most factual questions ? How much of our brain function is affected by a palm pilot ? Or, for that matter, by the ability to write things down on a piece of paper ?”

This is not a new line of thought – this paper by Andy Clark and David Chalmers is a good example of reflections in that field. Here is the introduction :

“Where does the mind stop and the rest of the world begin? The question invites two standard replies. Some accept the demarcations of skin and skull, and say that what is outside the body is outside the mind. Others are impressed by arguments suggesting that the meaning of our words “just ain’t in the head”, and hold that this externalism about meaning carries over into an externalism about mind. We propose to pursue a third position. We advocate a very different sort of externalism: an active externalism, based on the active role of the environment in driving cognitive processes”.

There is certainly a “the medium is the message” angle on that – but it goes further with the author and the medium no longer being discrete entities but part of a continuum.

We are already uploading – but most of us have not noticed yet. As William Gibson puts it: the future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed.

Politics14 Dec 2010 at 15:05 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Yesterday, @telecomix mentioned a statement by Trotsky about the publication of secret treaties. A few extracts :

“Secret diplomacy is a necessary tool for a propertied minority which is compelled to deceive the majority in order to subject it to its interests. Imperialism, with its dark plans of conquest and its robber alliances and deals, developed the system of secret diplomacy to the highest level”.

“The Russian people, and the peoples of Europe and the whole world, should learn the documentary truth about the plans forged in secret by the financiers and industrialists together with their parliamentary and diplomatic agents”.

“The abolition of secret diplomacy is the primary condition for an honest, popular, truly democratic foreign policy”.

Sure, it is Leon Trotsky and you will discount his opinion because he carries the stigma of Communism – or Trotskyism to be more exact. So what about someone more moderate ?

What about a President of the United States ? If that could help convince you, here is Woodrow Wilson : @AymericPM dug out his Fourteen Points and guess what the first one is ?

“Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view”.

Amen bro !

Secret diplomacy sucks – ACTA is a recent prime example of why it does. Popular reaction to the Cablegate publications shows that popular awareness of that issue is growing.

I’m sure that we can find other prominent  political thinkers who have something to say about it… We have two and I’m sure it is only the beginning of a consensus.

About the Cablegate, Defense Secretary and former director of central intelligence  Robert M. Gates declared : “Is this embarrassing? Yes. Is it awkward? Yes. Consequences for U.S. foreign policy? I think fairly modest”. Let’s contradict him : we want open diplomacy.

Post forth your quotes in support of open diplomacy !

Politics and The media11 Dec 2010 at 17:28 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Yesterday, sparked by a Frederick Douglass quote I stumbled upon at Reddit, I posted my spontaneous thoughts about the Wikileak Cablegate aftermath. Of course by now everyone an his dog is barking across town in delicious cacophony, so here are a few articles in that vein that I liked today.

How to think about Wikileaks” is a compendium of analysis and reactions that has been widely pointed at. If you don’t know where to start, this is a very good place with choice quotes from interesting voices from all round. Among them, Cintra Wilson’s “The C Word: Julian Assange Isn’t Doing Anything Worse Than What Our Government Is Doing” rang particularly well within me.

Apart from that, I liked this piece from Broadstuff, found through the incredible Glyn Moody : Wikileaks only exists because the mainstream media failed. Here in France I’m pleasantly surprised to have seen Le Monde be one of the five media anchors in the world to collaborate on the Cablegate release – this surely has something to do with its new rebellious ownership. Not to be outdone, the left-leaning Liberation is now hosting a Wikileaks mirror – of course I’m not holding my breath for Le Figaro to do anything. But even Le Monde has only caught the Wikileaks wave, not created it. Journalists used to be the conduit for leaking information – where are they now ?

By the way, Aavaaz petition in support of Wikileaks is past 530k signatures – 300k in past 24 hours. Let’s get it past a million, just in case whoever cluelessly keeps attempting a clumsy crackdown has not got the message yet…

Politics and The media10 Dec 2010 at 13:39 by Jean-Marc Liotier

A disturbing number of people around me have expressed misgivings about Wikileak’s disorderly conduct, claiming that progress must be achieved in a more civilized way within the frame of the established government system. Alas, that is not always possible – sometimes a measure of peaceful excess is required to nudge the system out of a local optimum toward the great wide open of better possibilities. To illustrate that, here are a few choice quotes from someone who broke his chains and helped in freeing others from theirs:

“Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will” – Frederick Douglass in an address on West India Emancipation (1857-08-04)

If you don’t ask for something, the odds of receiving it are tiny – especially when subjected to more powerful forces. The people have been clamoring for honesty from those who govern them, and not getting it. Now they begin to understand that a struggle is required – and they chose information as their weapon.

The people seeks truth as authority, not authority as truth. But Wikileaks is not about the abstract and impossible absolute transparency – the strawman argument derided by those who oppose it. It is about more transparency in response to a problem : we don’t trust our governments anymore.

Or course, Wikileaks is clearly excessive – but it is only the backlash for the equally excessive treachery that secretive governments have foisted upon their own people.

More balanced views will prevail, but only when trust will have been re-established. Until then, there will be struggle :

“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe” – Frederick Douglass in speech on the twenty-fourth anniversary of Emancipation in the District of Columbia, Washington, D.C. (April 1886)

It remains that whereas governments have been used to the privilege of surveillance over subjects – they are now waking up to a new world of sousveillance, where citizens forcefully take back rightful lordship over their government.

Wikileaks has contributed to the exposure of how broken the covenant between the people and the governments currently is. That covenant will be renewed : the truth that is pouring out of the shadows is the source of hope that will feed it.

“When a great truth once gets abroad in the world, no power on earth can imprison it, or prescribe its limits, or suppress it. It is bound to go on till it becomes the thought of the world” – Frederick Douglass in in speech to the International Council of Women (31 March 1888)

The discussion is now open – more information cures all !

Thanks to Frederick Douglass for the inspiration – the Wikileaks affair underlines the timelessness of his writings.