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IEET > Rights > Economic > Directors > Giulio Prisco

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Bankers and Bureaucrats vs. Internet Freedom


Giulio Prisco
Giulio Prisco
Ethical Technology

Posted: Feb 6, 2012

The bankers and the bureaucrats have discovered the Internet, 20 years too late, and they don’t like it

In March 1989, Tim Berners-Lee submitted a proposal for an information management system to his boss at CERN, Mike Sendall. “Vague, but exciting,” were the words that Sendall wrote on the proposal, allowing Berners-Lee to continue. And the Web was born.

I found out about the Web in 1991 (well, we did not have the Web then) from a Physics World article. I called Berners-Lee to know more, and I remember his skepticism about Internet access services for consumers.

Of course, the rest is history, and a very important part of the last two decades of our history on this planet. It seems a safe assumption that today everybody, at least in the developed “western” world, knows at least something about Internet. The Internet, as everyone knows, is the little box with lights that flicker when you are on Facebook, or something like that.

Well, apparently some people have just discovered Internet, more than 20 years too late, and they don’t like it.

Who are these people? Let’s call them “the bankers and the bureaucrats.”

The bankers are the greedy sharks denounced by the Occupy movement. They buy politicians and administrators who support them and bail them out with our money when they screw up bigtime. In some countries they have purchased the government wholesale. They own large corporations and want to keep their de-facto monopoly at all costs. They are only interested in money and power, and ruthlessly crash those who dare resisting them. Some of them claim to love freedom, but they want freedom only for themselves and their peers, and slavery for everyone else. Actually they hate free people, because free people don’t accept to be enslaved.

The bureaucrats are the paper pushers. They are often called “civil servants” and claim (some even believe) to serve the people, but they love paper more than persons and believe that their books, procedures and regulations are more important than the people. They are the nanny-state control freaks who wish to regulate our life from the cradle to the grave. They hate free people, because free people who think with their own head and live their own life don’t fit in their wet dream of an orderly society of zombies and sheeple.

According to a popular misconception, the bankers are the Right and the bureaucrats are the Left, and each group hates the other. Right-wing bankers are supposed to love corporations and hate governments, and left-wing bureaucrats are supposed to love governments and hate corporations. The reality is, of course, more complex, but simple enough to understand in its essence: the bankers and the bureaucrats, the Right and the Left, corporations and governments, co-operate behind the scenes because their interests are basically the same: power and control. Governments help the bankers to take our money, and corporations help the bureaucrats to take our souls. This is the simple Politics 101 truth of our times, which more and more free people are beginning to see. And we say: enough.

Back to the Internet. When the bankers and the bureaucrats first found out something about the Internet, they dismissed it as a passing fad. Some time later the bankers realized that they could use the Internet to sell us more useless things, send us more spam, advertise their Ponzi scams online, and the bureaucrats realized that they could use the Internet to read our private letters, monitor our online behavior, and keep us under control. So the bankers and the bureaucrats let us have Google, Youtube, Twitter, and Facebook.

Until now they have never realized the true, subversive nature of the Internet, a powerful and disruptive enabler of cultural, social and political innovation, evolution, and revolution. They have been stupid, because the subversiveness os the Internet was very clear in John Perry Barlow’s Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace:

Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather… We are creating a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth. We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity. Your legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and context do not apply to us. They are all based on matter, and there is no matter here…

Perhaps now they have understood Barlow’s Declaration, and of course they are fighting back. The Internet is beginning to hit them where it hurts: the wallets of the bankers, and the sanctimonious, self-righteous control freakery of the bureaucrats. The old “content” industry with its overpriced crap, and the ability to control the flow of free information across obsolete national borders, are rapidly disappearing, and there is much more disruption to come. It is becoming easy to see that entire financial, political and cultural systems will go, and our species is beginning to remake itself with technology, god(s) willing or not.

The mainstream Western press of the bankers and the bureaucrats has hailed the “Arab Spring” as a the social media revolution created by Twitter and Facebook, which by the way is an insult to the people who have died fighting their oppressive regimes on the streets. But when the same things have started to happen at home, when the Arab Spring has became the American Spring and the Planetary Spring, the same mainstream press has boycotted the Occupy Wall Street social movement until it was too big to ignore, and it keeps attacking the countless Occupy movements of the free people on the planet.

Then we have SOPA, PIPA and similar crap. These Internet censorship bills seem to have lost much of their initial support, also as a result of the firm response of the free citizens of cyberspace, with the blackout of Wikipedia and other important websites. Ray Kurzweil has it right: “Better the government shut down than Wikipedia go on strike.”

But, of course, SOPA and PIPA will be back, perhaps with other names and some minor concessions. Make no mistake: this is war. In a recent keynote at the Chaos Communications Congress in Berlin, Cory Doctorow has called it, “The coming war on general computation.”

“The coming century will be dominated by war against the general purpose computer, and the stakes are the freedom, fortune and privacy of the entire human race,” he says.

They want to take away our free, borderless, by-the-people-for-the-people Internet, and replace it with dull, sanitized “apps” that will only carry the spam and the crap that the bankers and the bureaucrats want us to hear. To avoid this, we must protect the Internet at all times. If we don’t act to protect the Internet now, the next generations will not experience the empowering flow of uncensored information that we have enjoyed in the last two decades, and they will become sheeple in the hands of greedy corporations and nanny-state dictatorships.

What can we do?

I am afraid they will win this war, because they hold all the weapons: they own the financial system, the political system, the administration of the state, the courts, the police, and the armies (they used to own also the press, but with the Internet we have taken it from them; now they want it back).

Rick Falkvinge, the founder of the first Pirate Party in Sweden, has recently written a great article on “Do we really have to prepare for the fourth box?”

“As I watch the legislative abominations named SOPA, PIPA, and NDAA follow the lead of the DMCA and the Patriot Act in the United States, I realize that the worst possible scenario for civil liberties appears to actually be materializing,” he says, and, recalling the four boxes of liberty (soap, ballot, jury, and ammo, use in that order), he cannot exclude a very frightening scenario: “If the system has been so thoroughly corrupted that the entire establishment is acting as one, and it is not possible to change the laws to safeguard fundamental liberties, then only one option remains.”

I hope it doesn’t come to that. I don’t like revolutions, because revolutions hurt people. But we cannot let the bankers and the bureucrats enslave us and our children, not without a fight.

Instead of a revolution, I think we must gradually obsolete the current system.

I am afraid the battle for what we call “Internet” today is lost before starting, because they hold all the cards. They will take back today’s Internet and replace with their own soap boxes for their spam and surveillance. This will take a few years, and we must use the time to develop a free, alternative Internet that cannot be controlled by bankers and bureaucrats.

Mesh networks, or sponge networks as futurist Pearson calls them in Web censorship will force next generation nets, are an ideal solution.

If network nodes communicate only with their peers (like BitTorrent nodes) without needing a central server, there is not much that governments and corporations can do to control the network or switch it off. There are already prototype implementations of mesh networks, see for example the Serval project:

“A sponge net doesn’t need any ISPs,” Pearson says. “Each device is autonomous. Each shares data with its immediate neighbours, and route dynamically according to a range of algorithms available to them. They can route data from A to B so that every packet goes by a different route of need be. Even without any encryption, only A and B can see the full message.”

“The capability to make these kinds of devices is almost here. Given the world that we live in, governments might try hard to prevent them from existing,” Pearson concludes. “But there are so many benign reasons to do so that it might be hard for them to resist the pressure. Almost all of the spirit of the early web was aimed at making the world a better place. Sure a few criminals and terrorists got in on the act, but the balance was for good. We lost it, and are worse off for it. Letting it happen again would be good for everyone. Sponge nets can do that. If some government officials don’t like it, well, so what? Right now, I don’t have a lot of respect for government.”

I see a future where we can join an encrypted mesh network from our rooted smartphones, anytime and anywhere. There are still many technical challenges to solve, but the free citizens of the free Internet have enough brains to solve them. Let the governments and the corporations keep their “Internet” and make it as dull and sanitized as they like, we don’t need it and we will move out.

The U.S. Pirate party has just released its first book , No Safe Harbor.

The essay “The worst part of censorship is [this phrase has been seized by ICE]” by Ryan Moffitt says it all about the “entertainment industry”: “An industry that has to suspend civil liberties to make money is an industry the world needs to be without.”

I cannot and I will not incite others to break current laws, but I can and I will say that these laws are stupid, and I will support and vote for the parties that want to change them.

Instead of breaking laws, I incite everyone to massively boycott the “entertainment industry.” Kick them hard in the wallet where it hurts. Just don’t buy from them. For news and opinions, there is enough high quality content on the free Internet (just think of TED talks). Films cost more to produce, but alternative, crowdfunded production and distribution ecosystems are emerging for films as well. Every magazine, CD or DVD that you don’t buy is a nail in the coffin of the “entertainment industry” and their bribed buddies.

Of course consuming “entertainment” and “content” is not an easy habit to break, especially if the emerging alternatives are not established yet. But If you are one of the 99%, think about this: do you really have enough disposable money to pay 20 euros or more for what should cost 2 euros or less? You know that much less than 10% of they money that you pay goes to the creators (writers, artists, musicians, film makers, etc.), and the rest pays for the inflated and wasteful infrastructure of the “content industry” and their fat profits. Boycott them, start boycotting them now, and support creators directly via kickstarter, vodo.net, or direct donations.

I have never been a free software zealot and I have used free software only when it was as good as commercial alternatives, or better. But recently I have re-evaluated my position after reading an article titled Richard Stallman Was Right All Along.

Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter, and all the main manufacturer of computers, tablets and smartphones, will be forced by the bankers and the bureaucrats to insert backdoors and spying devices in their proprietary hardware and software. I guess most of them already have. The only solution is to switch to free alternatives. I am going to gradually phase out proprietary hardware, software and services, and I recomment that you begin to do the same to protect yourself and the free Internet.


Giulio Prisco is a physicist and computer scientist, and former senior manager in the European space administration. Giulio works as a consultant and contributes to several science and technology magazines. In 2002-2008 he served on the Board of Directors of Humanity Plus, of which he was Executive Director, and serves on the Board of Directors of the Italian Transhumanist Association. He is often in Hungary, Italy and Spain. You can find more about Giulio at his Turing Church, RSS feed and skefi'a science/fiction, RSS feed.
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COMMENTS


OK I’ll bite. You’d be disappointed if I didn’t. (Or at least Hank would.)

As you know perfectly well, Bankers are not all greedy sharks, and the idea that bureaucrats - generally, without exception or nuance - “love paper more than people” is an even more nauseating prejudice….or would be if I really thought you came close to believing such nonsense.

So what you’re talking about is not “bankers” and “bureaucrats” (who ARE people, you know, with feelings, and a right to be protected from scapegoating, witch-hunting rhetoric), but caricatures of these categories, which bear some resemblance to the actual attitude and behaviour of a subset of them. Can we agree on that?

I’m not going to comment further re bankers, since it’s a profession about which I know relatively little. But I will, from my own experience, say a few words about bureaucrats and the Internet.

Bureaucrats come in many shapes and sizes. The term “bureaucrat”, when not applied in a strictly abusive (and therefore useless for the purposes of serious discussion) sense, can refer to anything from somebody processing (say) visa applications to top-level heads of agencies and ministries. For sure, we (I use the first person since I have not yet completely severed links with my own “bureaucracy”) are not the most innovative of souls, so we probably did, many of us, take longer than some to wake up to the Internet. And how did we react when we did? By and large like most people: gradually integrating it into our way of life and work, and being slow to grasp its real implications.

Are some bureaucrats scared of the internet? Sure. We’re human beings. Are some of us power-crazy? Sure. Ditto.

But really, we don’t take forward the important debates about freedom of information, privacy, policy capture, financial regulation, role of government, etc, etc, by resorting to caricature.

I’ll say one thing about your suggestion to “boycott the entertainment industry” though. One of the many good tips I got from reading Tim Ferris’s gloriously brazen and iconoclastic Four-hour Work Week is the so-called Information Free Diet, where for one week you go without all forms of information - radio, newspapers, basically any verbal input from media channels - that you don’t need for immediate purposes.

Because it’s true that we’re all brainwashed (remember what I was saying about mass hallucination in Hungary?). Compared to the stone age our language instinct is massively overstimulated, and while this “sea of language” in which we’re bathed, more or less from birth, gives us access to knowledge that goes way beyond what we could ever have attained through simple observation of our immediate surroundings, it also exposes us to all sorts of distortions and misinformation, whether deliberate or (most of the time) not. Taking steps to break free from that addiction definitely IS worthwhile, and would (I think) go a long way to reduce our tendency to positively cry out to be exploited.

Much better than blaming the “bankers and bureaucrats”.





@Peter, as usual I am using the “bankers” and “bureaucrats” categories to indicate *mentalities*, not people. I have not said that bankers are only in banks and bureaucrats are only in the civil service. A movie star can be a bureaucrat and a baker can be a banker (remember Jim in my Joe and Jim story of a few weeks ago).

I have provided my definitions of the “bankers” and “bureaucrats” categories. Unfortunately, I don’t believe these descriptions are entirely caricatural, because they do apply to some persons quite precisely. I know some of these persons, and you know them too.

Of course I know that many people who work in banks are not “bankers”, and many people who work in the civil service are not “bureaucrats”. I did not say it… because I knew that you would say it! This is a collective soapbox, and the debate is the best part of the essays.

Re the entertainment industry boycott, or the information free diet. When I was an outrageously underworked and overpaid bure… oops civil servant, I used to waste money on useless things. Since I joined the 99% a few years ago, I am much more careful with money: I don’t buy music or DVDs, I don’t go to the movies, I basically take all my content and entertainment from the Internet, and I am happy this way. I make exceptions for the books of a few authors that I really cannot do without, but I only buy e-books.

 





Douglas Adams coined the term “gastard” to mean a child born out of wedlock, to be distinguished from “bastard” which means someone who just overtook you on the motorway.

In a similar vein, can we coin the terms:

“ganker”, meaning someone who runs or works in a bank, and who may be a perfectly decent person, and

“gureaucrat”, a public office worker who, likewise, may be a perfectly decent person?





By the way, re “Internet freedom”, I found this column by Bill Keller in today’s International Herald Tribune excellent. You don’t have to be a fan of Big Entertainment to see the current craze around Internet freedom as something of an unholy alliance between Big Tech, unsavoury hacktivists and naive libertarians.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/06/opinion/steal-this-column.html?_r=1&ref=billkeller





@Peter re Bill Keller’s NYT column, it is not as bad as I feared from your description. Keller concludes with:

Content-makers would be crazy to let the Internet be stunted as a force for invention, mobilization and shared wisdom. It’s the sea we all swim in.

Of course I agree, and I think most content-makers do. It is the bankers in the content industry, and the bureaucrats in their pockets, who don’t. Content makers frequently report that “piracy” doesn’t harm, and often improves, their ability to make a living with their creation. The “content and entertainment” industry, instead, is opposed to Internet freedom because their obsolete ways and their insane profits are disappearing.

At the same time, online companies would be crazy to let piracy kill off the commerce that supplies quality material upon which even free sites like Wikipedia depend.

Nobody wants to kill commerce, and of course I think that content creators must be able to make a living with their work, otherwise they will be forced to stop creating and do something else to put food on the table. But it is unreasonable to expect that readers pay 20 euros for a book when less than one euro goes to the writer. Publishers can only survive if they dramatically reduce prices by switching to modern ways of distribution. I very much approve of Amazon’s self publishing program for Kindle, and I approve even more of the DRM-free publishing model of Smashwords, and I think this is the way to go. If I can buy a book for 3 euros knowing that 2 euros go to the writer, I am more than happy to do so.

Re “gankers” and “bureaucrats”, I love it, but we already have the perfectly good terms like “civil servants”. I hope many civil servants are not bureaucrats similar to my caricature, but unfortunately many civil servants are.





“@Peter re Bill Keller’s NYT column, it is not as bad as I feared from your description.”

Now that REALLY made me laugh! smile

“No nobody wants to kill commerce”: and yet to hear some people talk you would think they did. Or they favour approaches that _would_ kill commerce of they were implemented, and indeed which DO, in practice, stunt commerce and economic growth. So the comment that Keller makes is not, in my opinion, a straw man.

That said, I don’t really have any issue with your comments about artists vs publishers and industry sharks. Except perhaps this: in his article Keller mentions that this, like everything in Washington DC, has become a full-blown culture war. My question is: should we be weighing in on the side of the “free internet” brigade, as you seem to favour, or should we rather be trying to inject some sanity into the battlefield? My preference is rather for the latter, but perhaps that’s just my cognitive style…





@Peter re weighing in on the side of the “free internet” brigade vs. trying to inject some sanity into the battlefield

I think both approaches are useful and needed, so perhaps we have both chosen our side wisely.

If I were running things, I would probably favor “sanity” and a negotiated solution as fair as possible to all the parties involved. But I am just a writer, and the free internet is closer to my heart than the old world. If one of the two must go, it is the old world.





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