The Singularity and the Future-Human under Capitalism

By Wes Strong

The Technological Singularity, referred to as “the singularity” by transhumanists, signifies a point in time where self-aware self-improving artificial intelligence that could surpass the intelligence of the human brain manifests.

The Coming Singularity

The prior may seem more threatening to most, however artificial intelligence may pose a more immediate risk to humanity.

The singularity culminates a reach towards “smarter systems,” a point where advanced intelligences are able to replicate and improve on each generation quicker than humans. The singularity would be the entry into a new era of transhumanism and transhumanist development. This new intelligence can be human based, relying on improvement technologies to enhance cognition, or machine based, relying on advanced computing devices. This new intelligence would take over production of future advanced intelligences, making enhancements on each generation. Multiple unpredictable outcomes could arise from such transformation, as well as many ethical dilemmas.

Advanced intelligences could take several paths, They might annihilate humanity to eliminate threats to their superiority. They may radically transform social systems on the basis of equity and democracy. They may just sit around making lolcats memes. They could do an unending number of things. It is unpredictable given that we have no experience with advanced, self-replicating intelligences other than our own. This unpredictability can be incredibly dangerous in a world of mechanized nuclear weapons, epidemic diseases held back by computerized security systems, and almost exhaustive Internet access, specifically in industrial and post-industrial capitalist nations.

Capitalism and Singularitarianism

Power determines the distribution and use of technology. The ethics of a technology are dependent upon its use, largely determined by powered classes. Social, political, and economic structures define the relationship between humanity and technology. Corporations, states, and the powered classes control the flow of commodities in a capitalist society. Profit is the first motive of capitalism. Advanced intelligences are likely to be used to forward the search for profit under capitalism, expanding exploitation and oppression.

Human-improving technologies, guided by the capitalist ethics of profit, could be used to speed up production in jobs that must be filled by humans, mechanizing the production line to a greater extent. This would further separate producers from the fruits of their labor and alienate humanity from itself and its value even more. We could be programmed – and I mean this in the literal sense – to accept oppression and believe it as standard.

Some Transhumanists seem very interested in using transhuman technology to improve profit lines. Peter Thiel is a sponsor of the Singularity Institute, one of the major singularitarian organizations. Theil made millions as co-founder and CEO of PayPal and now spends his time managing hedge funds and financially supporting singularitarian and transhumanist causes. Thiel was recently in the news for funding Blueseed – a company that aims to bring workers into international waters where they are not bound to workers’ rights laws and can ignore influences by local populations as well as state and federal governments.i

Theil supports other “seasteading” projects similar to this, with the hopes of establishing a libertarian paradise, inspired by his objectivist idol Ayn Rand’s book Atlas Shrugged. Seemingly positive promises of lower cost living hide the reality of the workers who will run the infrastructure of such projects and the massive exploitation and oppression they will face without any protections.ii

Faulty Assumptions

Assuming the singularity will inevitably change humanity for the better is ignorant and arrogant at best. Singularitarians must be blind to history if their sole focus is to expedite the singularity. Large cataclysmic events occurred throughout history from pre-history to the so-called “civilized” era. There are positive and negative effects of each event, the value determination often dependent on the subjective view of the observer in that time. The advent of capitalism in Europe presents an excellent example.

Capitalism had positive benefits over feudal systems. Capitalist republics brought a greater access to influence power through democratic rights, even though they are moderated and controlled by the bourgeois state. Working people went from being voiceless serfs to attaining some albeit small voices in the democratic process, unless you were female, unpropertied, or a slave/indentured – which still hold true today. Overall, serfs became workers and together they could and do have a collective voice that would not have flourished under the absolute monarchs of feudalism. Together they had and have a power to affect the political positions of the bourgeois state, something unheard of under feudal rule.

The rise of capitalism had negative impacts as well. The rise of capitalism sparked a massive urbanization that continues in burgeoning markets to this day. The factory and production line model of capitalism puts hundreds if not thousands of workers at risk under oppressive conditions. The factory fires in Bangladeshiii and the worker suicides at FoxConn plants in Chinaiv are certainly not a new phenomenon under capitalism and exemplify my point quite well.

The singularity is likely to have similar dichotomous or multichotomous – good, bad, and otherwise – effects on society should it occur as predicted. Singularitarians believe that there can be “perfect conditions” under which the singularity will benefit all of humanity. Such an assumption is based more on their point of view than any historical reality. The oppressed bourgeois in Europe saw the advent of capitalism as beneficial to all of humanity. Singularitarians see the singularity in the same light. They are both subjective assumptions based on the desires and wills of these collective groups and nothing more.

This fanaticism, this arrogance and ignorance of history and the faults of making grandiose assumptions about the future based on a limited and subjectively marginal reality is tantamount to religious proclamations of impending rapture and has similar effects on its followers. The void of self-criticism and lack of understanding the political realities will put the empowered classes at an advantage to capitalize – quite literally – on a possibly world changing event. Singularitarians apotheosize an historical event which may or may not do any good for the majority of humanity, and in doing so may actually make us less prepared to deal with such an event, putting marginalized populations at greater risk of exploitation and oppression.

Artificial intelligences cannot dismantle systems of power through mere existence as their material form can easily be dismantled or destroyed, human or otherwise. It should be no surprise that capitalists like Peter Theil find the singularity desirable as they are likely to profit off such a transformation, to the detriment of most of humanity, workers, and the poor.

Science and technology does not inherently progress towards one point of revelation, bringing the argument behind the inevitability of the singularity into question. It is often a battle between paradigms and models, often swayed by powered interests and structures, and entirely encapsulated within social structures, well illustrated in the works of Thomas Kuhn.v Capitalism is in a serious point of crisis with massive austerity and impending ecological collapse. Drastic impacts on economic markets are likely to affect scientific advancement. Popular movements may also have an impact on the use of technology in society as well as the macro-level ethical principles that guide human interaction with technology.

I am become Death.

The technology we are devising today can be more dangerous than nuclear weapons. Human-improving technologies can also be used as human-controlling technologies. Humanity can be condemned to millennia of techno-slavery under the iron fist of ruling-class technocrats, without awareness of our collective power. We can live on for centuries, maybe forever, but will be devoid of our humanity as long as we are alienated from the fruit of our productive and creative means. We will be alienated from ourselves and each other.

The historical arrogance of singularitarians, the objectivist libertarianism of capitalists like Peter Theil, and the crisis state of mainstream capitalism may combine to form a perfect storm, conceive the singularity, and maintain systems of oppression while numbing working people to their own plight. Theil would likely welcome this outcome. Ray Kurzweil, author of The Singularity is Near, promotes a more ethical approach to the possible singularity. Kurzweil takes the time to at least recognize the downside of such technologies, the risks posed by the singularity, and the ethical dilemma we are situated in.vi Advanced intelligences can be incredibly beneficial, but they do not exist in a bubble, they are prone to social, political, and economic forces.

We can look to the future with understanding eyes, seeing both our history, present, and future together. Futurism and Transhumanism is about a greater understanding of our history, society, and future possibilities. We can’t ignore historical oppression and inequities. We need to develop better methods of understanding the ethics behind advanced technologies and be willing to challenge power structures that seek to use them for oppressive means.

Capitalism will influence every major social event as long as it is the dominant social form. The singularity is not immune to this. No intelligence can out-think the destructive military power of the state. Singularitarians are selling snake oil, just in a shinier container with more free gadgets. The singularity, and advanced intelligences, will not and cannot be a panacea for the systemic oppression and exploitation inherent in capitalism, and as such will never benefit all of humanity.

References

i http://techli.com/2011/11/bluseed-silicon-valley-on-a-boat/

ii http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/18/peter-thiel-seasteading_n_930595.html

iii http://news.yahoo.com/112-killed-fire-bangladesh-garment-060756696.html

ivhttp://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jan/16/foxconn-suicide-china-society

vhttp://turkpsikiyatri.org/arsiv/kuhn-ssr-2nded.pdf

vihttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1uIzS1uCOcE

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Transhumanism and the Radical Left

By Summer Speaker

What is transhumanism?

This techno-futurist movement stresses the possibility and desirability of innovations such as lifespan extension and cognitive enhancement. Transhumanists seek to transcend unpleasant aspects of the human condition and cultivate our positive qualities through technological intervention. While the movement tends to support established military and corporate interests through uncritically trumpeting the progress narrative, it simultaneously contains a revolutionary élan devoted to reshaping society. Transhumanists eagerly entertain ambitious projects, rejecting traditional limits on individual and social change.

Shulamith Firestone’s Transformative Vision

Published in 1970, Firestone’s socialist-feminist manifesto The Dialectic of Sex demands the abolition of gender, the biological family, childhood, and toil. Firestone advocates women seizing control of reproductive technology, employing artificial wombs to separate procreation from body, and creating an egalitarian automated economy based in cybernetics. Firestone’s thought resonates with transhumanism and particularly connects through transsexual inventor and entrepreneur Martine Rothblatt’s 1994 transgender manifesto The Apartheid of Sex. Rothblatt later became a notable figure in the transhumanist movement, making an explicit connection between it and transgenderism.

The Primitivist Critique

Where transhumanism and Firestone show the liberatory potential of technology, primitivism exposes the horrors of the existing techno-industrial system. Iconic modern technologies such as electronics, industrial machines, and powered vehicles come directly out of European imperialism and require resources extracted through exploited labor on stolen lands. The human suffering and environmental damage involved can hardly be exaggerated. We need not embrace the complete indictment of civilization and science, but considering technological progress as a simple positive becomes untenable in this light.

Critical Engagement with Technology

Radical left politics demand a nuanced position toward the artifacts and social structures we lump together as technology. Speaking of these things on the aggregate often rings nonsensical. Laptops and nuclear bombs have decidedly different implications for our struggle. We all want clean air and water; nobody wants to be poisoned by industrial chemicals. Systems of production and the material goods they generate both oppress and empower, harm and comfort. Instances of this vast thing technology should prompt a variety of responses depending on the affected community. Primitivist dreams of driving civilization from the Earth and transhumanist ones of endlessly extending progress across the universe share totalitarian overtones. Outside of hierarchy, a diversity of legitimate life arrangements exist. We need a radical coalition capable united action against the oppressors and a future vision that embraces both reaching for the stars and returning to the woods.

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Depression and Suicide Amongst Radicals and Anarchists

By Nihilo Zero

“Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes.” — William Gibson.

The Problem of Suicide: You Are Not Alone

As the survivor of an arduous suicide attempt I’ve subsequently come to contemplate this subject a bit more than most.  Throughout the years I’ve seen friends, family, and loved-ones take their own lives.  Each time I hear of another suicide I am reminded not only of my own attempt, but also the attempts by those I’ve known.  To be perfectly honest… my response is probably indicative of some PTSD.  But I’m more than a decade removed from my major depressive episode and I feel that the subject of depression and suicide ought now be addressed.

It should be pointed out that suicide is now a leading cause of death in the United States.  Amongst the young adults it ranks as the second or third leading cause of death (depending upon the specific age range examined).  In other segments of populations around the world  it is also a primary cause of death.  Economic factors seem overtly connected with suicide in many nationsCertain professions have a higher rate of suicide than others.  And, for U.S. soldiers, suicide has proven to be more deadly to them than combat.  This problem of suicide could accurately be described as a public heath crisis or an epidemic.

While a variety of factors contribute to individual instances of suicide and the overall suicide rate, I believe that progressive radicals, anarchists, and social justice activists have somewhat unique psychological factors that can also come into play.  Although they are probably just as likely to suffer from problems like social isolation or drug dependency,  I believe that those who are informed about the myriad of crises that humanity currently faces are given an extra punctuation in terms of reasons to be dismayed.  So, in addition to any personal problems they may have, they are also aware that the world seems to be going to hell in a proverbial handbasket.  And while I personally believe that’s a fairly accurate assessment of things, I don’t advocate suicide as a response to this reality.

Life Under Siege

Particularly for younger radicals, as well as for younger people in general, I think the idea that things can suddenly and dramatically change is forsaken.  Since they haven’t experienced as much of life, it may not be as clear to younger people that situations can, and do, often change.  The world is not static and, as terrible as things may be overall, or as bad any particular personal situation may be, it’s bound to change — even if we’re just talking about gaining a different personal perspective on things.  We are all bound for new experiences, new insights, and new ways of looking at things.  And, in your darkest hour, it should be remembered that the next hour may serendipitously be your brightest.  Life undoubtedly can be, and often is, a struggle.  However, as a radical, as a person who has a conscience and is informed, it behooves us all if you keep up the struggle.

In a seeming paradox, life in nations under siege actually see suicide rates drop (WWII Britain, for example).  And, if it might help you, perhaps you should consider that the entirety of the world today is somewhat under siege.  I won’t go into detail here again about the numerous problems that humanity collectively faces — suffice it to say that there are serious problems in this world and each of us has our own thoughts about what needs to be changed and how that can happen.  Life and truth and beauty are constantly under attack, and these are things worth fighting for — things worth living for.

When a progressive radical commits suicide it’s equivalent to a fascist putting another notch in his rifle.  It is equivalent to the war machine rolling its tank treads over another freedom fighter.  This, I hope, is reason enough for many to avoid death at their own hands.

Don’t Let The Bastards Grind You Down

As radicals, people are often subjected to mockery and derision.  Expressing concerns about the state of the world can often lead to plain ridicule.  This mockery and scorn can come from any number of sources — friends, strangers, family, or the media.  And this derision can be, without a doubt, depressing.  But while some individuals should perhaps to be held accountable for their ignorant insensitivity, I’d suggest that this phenomena of callous ignorance is just a subtle part of the system’s overall psychological warfare — which it wages every day on every front.

The underlying nature of the system is to reduce empathy within the general population so that it can produce more mindless workers and consumers.  It’s subtle, but this is what allows modern society to continue down the unsustainable path that it is on.  This is what allows bona fide psychopaths to attain the highest positions within the highest offices of the land — be those governmental or business.  The value-free attitude of a twisted post-modernism scoffs at sincere concerns about the world and it perpetuates more business as usual.

And make no mistake… whatever the cumulative cause, psychological testing does show that empathy levels in the United States have dropped dramatically.  Young people today, in general, are actually less empathetic than they were a generation ago.  One can only imagine the social and psychological difficulties that a truly concerned bright young person must have today when dealing with a growing number of sociopathic peers!  But these decent young people need to be aware that the problem is not with them.  The problem is really not even the fault of their cold-hearted peers — the problem is with the system that creates and rewards sociopaths.  This is what needs to be recognized and this is why good-hearted people should not give up.  Merely the continued existence of thoughtful and intelligent people is a strike against the system — and that is why they should persist in an effort to undermine that system.

For radicals though, the problem of persecution on a psychological level goes beyond just merely the day to day interactions with any numb or cold peers.  Martin Luther King himself was famously sent a letter urging him to commit suicide.  And although I don’t specifically know how common this particular sort of tactic is… from personal experience I can tell you that such things still happen.  When I was an outspoken young radical (with an overt tail) I had leaflets left on my doorstep promoting suicide “for the sake of the environment.”  And while I can’t say for certain that this played a direct role in my own suicide attempt after the fact… it’s possible that I may have missed similar psychological attacks directed towards me.

This also relates to government infiltration and surveillance.  It is clear that infiltration of activist circles continues today (perhaps more commonly than ever).  But what subtle psychological effects does this infiltration have upon people?  Consider that you are likely to pick up on some level of insincerity amongst your peers.  If you begin to tolerate insincerity, or dismiss it, you may come to consider it a relative norm.  Or, on the other hand, you may avoid common social situations where you’ll have to deal with insincere individuals.  Either way… this is likely to have an negative effect on you.  And consider that it’s not just you who is being subjected to this but, also, other sincere individuals will be subjected to the same situation and may respond by altering their normally good-natured manner of associating with people.

In the 1960’s some radical organizations had some of their meetings populated primarily by undercover agents.  Now, 50 years later, I see little reason to doubt that this may still often be the case.  In fact, the problem may be much more acute.  Infiltration and surveillance works as a psychological attack upon progressive radicals.  It’s psychological warfare.  Psy-ops.

I preceded this article with a quote from Willam Gibson, the dystopian science fiction writer, and I believe his quote has particular relevance to anarchists and other social justice advocates.  If you fall into those categories, and if you are feeling depressed or having suicidal thoughts, consider that this may be exactly what was intended for you… by design.  And, so, then, you should rethink your position.  If this sort of thing makes you feel paranoid, well, that may be for the best if it keeps you alive.  Besides, being paranoid in this world may often be the sanest frame of mind to have.  But is it really paranoia if they want you dead?  And do you really think that the government and corporate interests never want any activists dead or that they don’t work toward those very ends?

You Are Empowered To Live And Control Your Own Life

If your life has gone to shit and doesn’t seem worth living… think again.  You can actually be part of something bigger and better.  You can change your personal life (habits, diet, “friends”) and you can work toward being healthier and having a healthier world overall.  Even simple changes in your life can alter your perspective and give you reason to live.  Your depression may persist… but don’t let it dominate you and control your life.  I don’t mean this all to sound like some hackneyed self-help cliche, but if that’s what it takes to keep a few radicals alive… I don’t care if that’s how it sounds.  There are simple truisms that remain true even if they are repeated a million times.

I don’t want any more sincere and good-hearted people to kill themselves.  And, at the rate which we are losing them, and at the rate which they are being outnumbered, the world can’t afford to lose any more.  If you are contemplating suicide… use your intellect to contemplate something else.  You are in control of your own life, your own mind, and your own activities — you can make a positive difference in this world by staying alive.  Even if you’ve never met them… there are people in this world who want you to be happy and want you to live.

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Transhumanism and Anarchism

A short and simple overview of how anarchism relates to transhumanism by Kris notaro

Libertarian socialism The first anarchist journal to use the term “libertarian” was La Libertaire, Journal du Mouvement Social and it was published in New York City between 1858 and 1861 by French anarcho-communist Joseph Déjacque.“The next recorded use of the term was in Europe, when “libertarian communism” was used at a French regional anarchist Congress at Le Havre (16–22 November 1880). January the following year saw a French manifesto issued on “Libertarian or Anarchist Communism.” Finally, 1895 saw leading anarchists Sébastien Faure and Louise Michel publish La Libertaire in France.”

The word stems from the French word libertaire, and was used to evade the French ban on anarchist publications. In this tradition, the term “libertarianism” in “libertarian socialism” is generally used as a synonym for anarchism, which some say is the original meaning of the term; hence “libertarian socialism” is equivalent to “socialist anarchism” to these scholars. In the context of the European socialist movement, libertarian has conventionally been used to describe those who opposed state socialism, such as Mikhail Bakunin. (Who I am not a big fan of) The association of socialism with libertarianism predates that of capitalism, and many anti-authoritarians still decry what they see as a mistaken association of capitalism with libertarianism in the United States. As Noam Chomsky put it, a consistent libertarian “must oppose private ownership of the means of production and wage slavery, which is a component of this system, as incompatible with the principle that labor must be freely undertaken and under the control of the producer.”

Anarcho-syndicalism is a branch of anarchism which endorses syndicalism. Syndicalism is an alternative co-operative economic system. Adherents view it as a potential force for revolutionary social change, replacing capitalism and the state with a new society, democratically self-managed by workers. Anarcho-syndicalists seek to abolish the wage system, regarding it as wage slavery, and state or private ownership of the means of production, which they believe lead to class divisions. Anarcho-syndicalist theory generally focuses on the labour movement.

Anarcho-syndicalists regard the state as a profoundly anti-worker institution. They view the primary purpose of the state as being the defence of private property and therefore of economic, social and political privilege, even when such defence denies its citizens the ability to enjoy material independence and the social autonomy which springs from it. In contrast to other bodies of thought (Marxism–Leninism being a prime example), anarcho-syndicalists deny that there can be any kind of workers’ state, or a state which acts in the interests of workers, as opposed to those of the powerful. Reflecting the anarchist philosophy from which it draws its primary inspiration, anarcho-syndicalism holds to the idea that power corrupts.(1)(2)

Technology: Technology is the making, modification, usage, and knowledge of tools, machines, techniques, crafts, systems, methods of organization, in order to solve a problem, improve a preexisting solution to a problem, achieve a goal or perform a specific function. It can also refer to the collection of such tools, machinery, modifications, arrangements and procedures. Technologies significantly affect human as well as other animal species’ ability to control and adapt to their natural environments. The word technology comes from Greek τεχνολογία (technología); from τέχνη (téchnē), meaning “art, skill, craft”, and -λογία (-logía), meaning “study of-” (3)

Noam Chomsky on Technology: “technology can be compared to a hammer. “It doesn’t care if you use it to build a house or crush someone’s skull. The Web is valuable if you know what you’re looking for, if you have a framework of understanding. But you always have to be willing to question whether your framework is the right one.” He compared simply browsing the web for information to pointing a student at the library knowing they had no idea what they were looking for. “Exploring the internet can just be picking up random factoids that don’t mean anything”, he said. “The person who won the Nobel prize in biology isn’t the person who read the most journals. It was the person who knew what to look for,””(4)

Transhumanism: is a intellectual and cultural movement supporting the use of science and technology to improve human mental and physical characteristics and capacities. The movement regards aspects of the human condition, such as disability, suffering, disease, aging, and involuntary death as unnecessary and undesirable. Transhumanists look to biotechnologies and other Emerging technologies for these purposes. Dangers, as well as benefits, are of concern to the transhumanist movement. (5)

Reality of the Production of Technologies Under Current Capitalism: “On the surface, companies like Jabil [HP, IBM, Intel, Cisco, AT&T, Motorola, Wal-Mart, Foxconn, Apple ] look clean and high tech.  It seems well-run.  But people looking in from the outside do not realize that the workers at Jabil are not treated like human beings.  The workers must obey all demands from the factory and have absolutely no right to express disagreement.  The workers are seen as components of a machine.  During the entirety of their 12-hour shift, they are stripped of their humanity.  They are not allowed to have their own personalities, feelings, desires or needs-even using the bathroom.  For every second of every minute, they are controlled and ruled over by a prison-like management system.”(5)(6)(7)(8)

Capitalism and Working During the Human Condition: “To move beyond Marx and Anarchism in our current paradigm of the human condition may be an actual fallacy, an over criticizing of theory by intellectuals [including transhumanists] or Anarchists which have, out of awareness, a desire to move on past Marx and anarchism out of [the knowledge] of the dangers of simplifying the way people are supposed to be.  Progress seems to come out of paradigmatic crisis, and this intuition may lead some to the point of over analyzing, yearning to either create crisis or move beyond crisis to a new paradigm because of authentic intuitive feelings of the yearning for progress and egalitarianism which many intellectuals experience and write about through out their lives.” (10)

“Though capitalism is meant to be based on competition, those at the top of the food chain have also shown themselves to be capable of inclusiveness and solidarity. The great Western Capitalists have done business with fascists, socialists, despots and military dictators. They can adapt and constantly innovate. They are capable of quick thinking and immense tactical cunning.But despite having successfully powered through economic reforms, despite having waged wars and militarily occupied countries in order to put in place free market “democracies”, Capitalism is going through a crisis whose gravity has not revealed itself completely yet.” (11)


Long story short: For all you republican, libertarian, and liberal capitalists out there that want to see a transhumanist future, the evidence is clear: you will have to abide by a broken system under the human condition. This includes capitalist free trade, unnecessary war, and wage slavery – are you really prepared to see transhumanist gadgets be set in stone within the history books as a time like that of apartheid or European and American slavery of the 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries?

Is your wealth, or dedication to the government and corporations that lead the way towards a transhumanist future really what you are all about? Transhumanists know that the future will include technologies that will replace government – worldwide. Transhumanists also know that democracy and/or singularity like computer intelligence will dictate our existential, utilitarian, and categorical imperative future. We will be networked together to feel and think as one via brain to computer interfaces. Whatever the means for higher critical thinking may be, rather morality drugs, nano-blood-bots, brain to computer interfaces, gene therapy, etc, the outcome will be socialized anarchism. Critical thinking does not lead the mentally “enhanced” individual or super-computer to be selfish, indeed just the opposite. Let’s take what we have so far as examples of critical thinkers who have come to the same conclusion but under the human condition. The list is long, but a few major examples are Marx, Einstein, Hawking, Chomsky, Russell, Arundhati Roy, most philosophers, anthropologists, and sociologists.

If we base human intelligence, logic and critical thinking on examples like these we are left with one conclusion: The mentally enhanced will be socialist anarchists, regardless of what kind of technology they may be – for universal health care, anti-war, anti-authoritarian, anti-discrimination, pro-democracy, pro-choice, anti-racism, and even anti-speciesism will be regarded as the highest value system ever pondered by the brain/mind.

Scientific inquiry, the scientific method, and scientific revolutions will bring the enhanced mind together. Scientific discoveries and theories, in my opinion will bring brain/mind together like that of the social theory of Anarcho-syndicalism. Science however does not need a State, government, or leaders to be accepted as the truth – the scientific method speaks for itself.

In conclusion, we have several things going on here: Transhumanism being State and corporate funded under a “race to the bottom” wage slavery economic system. But, we also have the claim that transhumanism will increase intellectual thought and compassion towards brain/mind. I personally would rather see the compassion come before transhumanism so that history doesn’t reflect that of our ancestors. Anarchism also allows the free-thinker some time to ponder what is right and wrong without an authority figure proposing and in some cases forcing concepts and theories on them.  The scientific method, revolutionary liberal universities, colleges, and peer-reviewed journals will be of the utmost valued way of learning what is true and real – morally, ethically, and scientifically.

References:

(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertarian_socialism
(2) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anarcho-syndicalism
(3) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technology
(4) http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2012-01/25/noam-chomsky-at-learning-without-frontiers
(5) http://ieet.org/index.php/tpwiki/Transhumanism/
(6) http://www.globallabourrights.org/reports?id=0602
(7) http://www.globallabourrights.org/
(8) http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/2012/03/27/addressing-abuses-at-apple-facilities-in-china/
(9) http://www.redorbit.com/news/technology/1886043/nlc_usowned_hitech_jabil_factory_in_china_run_ like_minimum/
(10) http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/notaro20101114
(11) http://www.zcommunications.org/capitalism-a-ghost-story-by-arundhati-roy

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Top U.S. Terrorist Group: the FBI

By davidswanson – Posted on 23 February 2013

A careful study of the FBI’s own data on terrorism in the United States, reported in Trevor Aaronson’s book The Terror Factory, finds one organization leading all others in creating terrorist plots in the United States: the FBI.

Imagine an incompetent bureaucrat.  Now imagine a corrupt one.  Now imagine both combined.  You’re starting to get at the image I take away of some of the FBI agents’ actions recounted in this book.

Now imagine someone both dumb enough to be manipulated by one of those bureaucrats and hopelessly criminal, often sociopathic, and generally at the mercy of the criminal or immigration courts.  Now you’re down to the level of the FBI informant, of which we the Sacred-Taxpayers-Who-Shall-Defund-Our-Own-Retirement employ some 15,000 now, dramatically more than ever before. And we pay them very well.

Then try to picture someone so naive, incompetent, desperate, out-of-place, or deranged as to be manipulable by an FBI informant.  Now you’re at the level of the evil terrorist masterminds out to blow up our skyscrapers.

Well, not really.  They’re actually almost entirely bumbling morons who couldn’t tie their own shoes or buy the laces without FBI instigation and support.  The FBI plants the ideas, makes the plans, provides the fake weapons and money, creates the attempted act of terrorism, makes an arrest, and announces the salvation of the nation.

Over and over again.  The procedure has become so regular that intended marks have spotted the sting being worked on them simply by googling the name or phone number of the bozo pretending to recruit them into the terrorist brotherhood, and discovering that he’s a serial informant.

Between 911 and August, 2011, the U.S. government prosecuted 508 people for terrorism in the United States.  243 had been targeted using an FBI informant.  158 had been caught in an FBI terrorism sting.  49 (that we know of, FBI recording devices have completely unbelievable patterns of “malfunctioning”) had encountered an agent provocateur.  Most of the rest charged with “terrorism” had little or nothing to do with terrorism at all, most of them charged with more minor offenses like immigration offenses or making false statements.  Three or four people out of the whole list appear to be men whom one would reasonably call terrorists in the commonly accepted sense of the word.  They intended to and had something at least approaching the capacity to engage in acts of terrorism.

These figures are not far off the percentages of Guantanamo prisoners or drone strike victims believed to be guilty of anything resembling what they’ve been accused of.  So, we shouldn’t single out the FBI for criticism.  But it should receive its share.

Here’s how U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon understood a case that seems all too typical:

“The essence of what occurred here is that a government, understandably zealous to protect its citizens from terrorism, came upon a man both bigoted and suggestible, one who was incapable of committing an act of terrorism on his own.  It created acts of terrorism out of his fantasies of bravado and bigotry, and then made those fantasies come true. . . . I suspect that real terrorists would not have bothered themselves with a person who was so utterly inept.”

When we hear on television that the FBI has prevented a plot to blow up a crowded area of a big U.S. city, we either grow terrified and grateful, or we wait for the inevitable revelation that the FBI created the plot from start to finish, manipulating some poor fool who had zero contact with foreign terrorists and more often than not participated unwittingly or for the money offered him.  But even those of us who do the latter might find Aaronson’s survey of this phenomenon stunning.

During some of its heretofore darkest days the FBI didn’t use informants like it does now.  J. Edgar Hoover’s informants just observed and reported.  They didn’t instigate.  That practice took off during the war on drugs in the 1980s.  But the assumption that a drug dealer might have done the same thing without the FBI’s sting operation is backed up by some statistics.  There is no evidence to back up the idea that the unemployed grocery bagger and video game player who sees visions, has never heard of major Islamic terrorist groups, can’t purchase a gun with thousands of dollars in cash and instructions on how to purchase a gun, understands terrorism entirely from the insights of Hollywood movies, and who has no relevant skills or resources, is going to blow up a building without help from the FBI.

(Which came first, the FBI’s terror factory or Hollywood’s is a moot question now that they feed off each other so well.)

Read this book, I’m telling you, we’re looking at people who’ve been locked away for decades who couldn’t have found their ass with two hands and a map.  These cases more than anything else resemble those of mentally challenged innocent men sitting on death rows because they tried to please the police officer asking them to confess to a crime they clearly knew nothing about.

Of course the press conferences announcing the convictions of drug dealers and “terrorists” are equally successful.  They also equally announce an ongoing campaign doomed to failure.  The campaign for “terrorists” developed under President George W. Bush and expanded, like so much else, under President Barack Obama.

Aaronson spoke with J. Stephen Tidwell, former executive assistant director at the FBI.  Tidwell argued that someone thinking about the general idea of committing crimes should be set up and then prosecuted, because as long as they’re not in prison the possibility exists that someone other than the FBI could encourage them to, and assist them in, actually committing a crime.  “You and I could sit here, go online, and by tonight have a decent bomb built.  What do you do?  Wait for him to figure it out himself?”

The answer, based on extensive data, is quite clearly that he will not figure it out himself and act on it.  That the FBI has stopped 3 acts of terrorism is believable.  But that the FBI has stopped 508 and there wasn’t a 509th is just not possible.  The explanation is that there haven’t been 509 or even 243.  The FBI has manufactured terrorist plots by the dozens, including most of the best known ones.  (And if you watched John Brennan’s confirmation hearing, you know that the underwear bomber and other “attacks” not under the FBI’s jurisdiction have been no more real.)

Arthur Cummings, former executive assistant director of the FBI’s National Security Branch, told Aaronson that the enemy was not Al Qaeda or Islamic Terrorism, but the idea of it.  “We’re at war with an idea,” he said.  But his strategy seems to be one of consciously attempting to lose hearts and minds.  For the money spent on infiltrations and stings, the U.S. government could have given every targeted community free education from preschool to college, just as it could do for every community at home and many abroad by redirecting war spending.  When you’re making enemies of people rather than friends, to say that you’re working against an idea is simply to admit that you’re not targeting people based on a judicial review finding any probable cause to legally do so.

The drug war’s failure can be calculated in the presence of drugs, although the profits for prisons and other profiteers aren’t universally seen as failures.  The FBI’s counterterrorism can be calculated as a failure largely because of the waste of billions of dollars on nonexistent terrorism.  But there’s also the fact that the FBI’s widespread use of informants, very disproportionately in Muslim communities, has made ordinary people who might provide tips hesitant to do so for fear of being recruited as informants.  Thus “counter terrorism” may make it harder to counter terrorism.  It may also feed into real terrorism by further enraging people already outraged by U.S. foreign policy.  But it’s no failure at all if measured by the dollars flowing into the FBI, or the dollars flowing into the pockets of informants who get paid by commission (that is, based on convictions in court of their marks).  Nor do weapons makers, other war profiteers, or other backers of right wing politics in general seem to be objecting in any way to the production of widespread fear and bigotry.

Congressman Stephen Lynch has introduced a bill that would require federal law enforcement agencies to report to Congress twice a year on all serious crimes, authorized or unauthorized, committed by informants (who are often much more dangerous criminals than are those they’re informing on). The bill picked up a grand total of zero cosponsors last Congress and has reached the same mark thus far in the current one.

The corporate media cartel has seen its ratings soar with each new phony incident.  Opposition to current practice does not seem to be coming from that quarter.

And let’s all be clear with each other: our society is tolerating this because the victims are Muslims.  With many other minority groups we would all be leaping to their defense.

It may be time to try thinking of Muslims as Samaritans, as of course some of them are.

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The New Fourth Estate: Anonymous, Wikileaks, and –archy

As government and industry collude, the interests of the powerful trample the rights of the multitude. Technology has granted invasive new eyes and ears to government agencies, spurning the right to privacy. Felicitously, the individual has also been empowered with two new tools to check the corporate state: hacktivism and leaks. The press has been captured by a handful of news corporations that are generally uncritical of government and fail to expose corporate injustice. The techno-libertarian culture has birthed the do-it-yourself fourth estate—usurping the illegitimate media and furnishing a viable alternative to the cartelized press. Two entities, Wikileaks and Anonymous, have emerged under this banner. This inquiry seeks to understand their history, methods, and to ascertain whether use of the discrete figurehead is efficacious.

“When people talk of the freedom of writing, speaking, or thinking, I cannot choose but laugh. No such thing ever existed. No such thing now exists; but I hope it will exist. But it must be hundreds of years after you and I shall write and speak no more.”

– John Adams

Introduction

The press is the chief democratic instrument of freedom.”
– Alexis de Tocqueville

The wellspring of liberty runs dry without the free flow of information. The Egyptian government shut down their Internet on January 28, 2011, just after the Associated Press published video of a protestor being shot by riot police. [1] This came as a shock to the global community; censorship of such magnitude is only rivaled by nations like North Korea (where subjects have no internet access). A global trend of authoritarianism is emerging, and the West is not immune (and perhaps even leading the charge).

In Radical Priorities, Noam Chomsky and C.P. Otero wrote:

“The totalitarian system of thought control is far less effective than the democratic one, since the official doctrine parroted by the intellectuals at the service of the state is readily identifiable as pure propaganda, and this helps free the mind.” In contrast, “the democratic system seeks to determine and limit the entire spectrum of thought by leaving the fundamental assumptions unexpressed. They are presupposed but not asserted.”

Noam Chomsky tersely put it this way in in Chronicles of Dissent: “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.”

The media cartel is adept at this technique. In 1983 in the US, 50 companies shared 90% of the market. Today, that number is six, with a majority of control in the hands of General Electric, News Corporation, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner and CBS. [2]

In the United States, the Occupy and Tea Party movements agitate for distinct types of social change, yet both rally under the banner of protecting civil liberties in the face of state-corporate intrusion. In the last two years, several such controversial pieces of legislation have been put forward.

Several rounds of Internet censorship (on behalf of the media industry and intelligence agencies) have been subject to public scrutiny, including:

SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, which targets sites that host copywritten material, was defeated by a coalition of web giants, including Wikipedia, Google and Reddit. [3] Nevertheless, a rash of other bills has been proposed, including the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), the Protect IP Act (PIPA), and the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA).

All of these protect intellectual “property” and media industry “earnings.” More threateningly, the bills augment the authority of government intelligence agencies over the formerly free Internet.

Carl Levin and John McCain sponsored, and Obama signed off on, the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). American Civil Liberties Union decried the bill as “an extraordinary expansion and statutory bolstering of authority for the military to pick up and imprison without charge or trial civilians, including American citizens, anywhere in the world.” [4]

The Trespass Bill (H.R. 347) was passed by 388-3, which criminalized First Amendment activity in given proximity to any individual protected by the Secret Service (including Republican Presidential candidates), even if the protestors are unaware that the area is designated off-limits. It is widely speculated that this bill was passed in anticipation of the G8 / NATO Summit in Chicago on May 19, 2012. In light of massive protest mobilization, the NATO meeting has since been moved to Camp David. [5]

President Obama campaigned as an anti-war candidate of the left. Since his election, he has upheld the Bush imperialism protocol. Obama’s trigger-happy drone strikes, refusal to close Guantanamo Bay, crackdown on non-violent protestors and journalists, banking sector bailouts and violation of the War Powers Act in Libya have tarnished his messianic image.

Tireless freedom crusader and civil liberties lawyer Glenn Greenwald wrote:

“One of the most consequential aspects of the Obama legacy is that he has transformed what was once known as ‘right-wing shredding of the Constitution’ into bipartisan consensus. When one of the two major parties supports a certain policy and the other party pretends to oppose it — as happened with these radical War on Terror policies during the Bush years — then public opinion is divisive on the question, sharply split.”

But once the policy becomes the hallmark of both political parties, then public opinion becomes robust in support of it. That’s because people assume that if both political parties support a certain policy that it must be wise, and because policies that enjoy the status of bipartisan consensus are removed from the realm of mainstream challenge.

That’s what Barack Obama has done to these Bush/Cheney policies: he has shielded and entrenched them as standard U.S. policy for at least a generation, and (by leading his supporters to embrace these policies as their own) has done so with far more success than any GOP President ever could have dreamed of achieving.” [6]

During the Arab Spring and Occupy protests, citizens’ voices were hushed and ignored while their bodies were bludgeoned and imprisoned. When votes are not counted, or do not count, bitterness toward the breached social contract festers. People seek other outlets of expression and political influence. The mainstream media have failed to check both government and the corporation, and another nascent mechanism of accountability has arisen from the ashes.

Anonymous

Founded on the ideal of extreme transparency, and abhorrent of censorship, the hacktivist group Anonymous deftly acquires and exposes private but socially-valuable information online.

Anonymous (or the individual Anon) breaks into websites, databases, email and Twitter accounts (or anything with a username and password). The Anon then vandalizes and/or appropriates private information that they feel should be publicly available. The Anons also organize to collectively to deliberatively target and crash websites offensive to the cause of liberty.

Anonymous is a reversal of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon—instead of a prison with a central omniscient tower, each Hacktivist cell scrutinizes the tower itself. The watchers become the watched; corporate governments do not like this.

Anonymous is a leaderless organization, coordinated online over chat rooms and forums. It started on the image forum 4chan, known also as the “bowels of the internet,” for its exceedingly offensive humor (the verb is “to troll.”)

The primary tool of the trade is the Distributed Denial of Service attack (DDoS), where computer users request large amounts of data from a website simultaneously, overwhelming it and causing it to crash. If caught, DDoS attacks have a maximum sentence of 10 years in jail.

Anonymous has developed a piece of open-source software called the Low Orbit Ion Cannon (LOIC), which any Anon can download and contribute to the operation without any requisite hacking savvy whatsoever. The name is derived from a weapon proposal from Nikola Tesla, for a “death ray” device that fires ionized particles. [7]

The LOIC allows Anons to volunteer their bandwidth to DDoS without even being at the computer, uniting with others in an automated “bot-net.” This devastating collective weapon explains Anonymous’ ability to incapacitate heavily fortified government websites.

“Anonymous is the first internet-based, anarchic super-consciousness. Anonymous is a group, in the sense that a flock of birds is a group. How do you know they’re a group? Because they’re travelling in the same direction. At any given moment, more birds could join, leave, and peel off in another direction entirely.”  – Chris Landers [8]

 

Inside the Internet Hate Machine

 “Fox News had in 2007 dubbed 4chan the ‘Internet hate machine’—a barb embraced, if ironically, by Anonymous, which responded with a grim parody video claiming to be ‘the face of chaos,’ ‘harbingers of judgment’ those who ‘laugh at the face of tragedy.’” [9]

According to anthropologist, NYU professor and Anonymous liaison Gabriella Coleman, the demographic of Anonymous is rather hard to verify. She embarked on a study of the group in 2008 (when it came onto the international scene) by spending time on 4chan and interviewing them in their Internet Relay Chatrooms (IRC). She found that the group is largely composed of liberal anarchists, vigilante libertarians, geeks, activists, bored teenagers and professional computer scientists with a unifying commitment to freedom of information.

“The group’s organizing principle—anonymity—makes it impossible to tell how many people are involved. Participation is fluid, and Anonymous includes hard-core hackers as well as people who contribute by editing videos, penning manifestos, or publicizing actions. Then there are myriad sympathizers who may not spend hours in chat rooms but will heed commands to join DDoS attacks and repost messages sent by Anonymous Twitter accounts, acting as both mercenary army and street team.” [10]

The group has a strong anti-ego and anti-celebrity ethic, chastising those who speak on behalf of the organization or seek too much time in the spotlight. They use deliberative consensus and polling within their chat-rooms and forums. The size waxes and wanes, but one forum alone has over 30,000 users, and they’re mostly concentrated in North America, Australia and Latin America and Europe.

The hacktivists communicate with the public in their characteristic video style, featuring dramatic oratory often filtered through an anonymizing computer voice over video of “V” from the film “V for Vendetta.” This formulaic call-to-arms has been recycled by many involved in the Occupy movement.

As a rhetorical sample, a partial transcript of the poetic and incisive Anonymous video, “The Bankers Are The Problem

“The bankers manufacture recessions and depressions to exert a greater control over social and political structures. The bankers create and finance the wars on both sides of the conflict. The bankers control the policies and control the media and the education system that is operated to maintain ignorance in the public, so that they can be shorn like sheep. The bankers launder the drug money, and ensure that drugs remain illegal. The bankers are the problem.”

The Crusade

Anonymous’ first unifying incident began as an attack on the Church of Scientology, in “Project Chanology.” The Guy Fawkes mask that is iconographic of Occupy actually began with this action. (This uniform mask of anonymity is not new—the Guerilla Girls of the 1980s pioneered the technique). [11] Hotly debated at first, Anonymous ultimately decided to manifest in person at Scientology headquarters around the world. The largest demonstration took place on February 10, 2008, involving over 7,000 people in 100 cities. [12]

Along with the Church’s controversial financial practices, this demonstration was precipitated in January 2008, when the organization attempted to remove from the web an insider-only motivational video of Tom Cruise blathering manically. This process of scandalous overreaction has come to be known as the Streisand Effect (after Barbara Streisand attempted to censor internet photos of her lavish estate and unwittingly made it a bigger deal that it would have been otherwise).

Anonymous and Scientology have had strained relations ever since the hacktivist collective was declared a “cyberterrorist group,” that was perpetrating “religious hate crimes” against the Church. Anonymous has resolved to “expel the church from the Internet,” and has called into question the legitimacy of its tax-exempt status. [13] Disturbingly, Germany is considering banning the religion entirely. [14] In an “epic troll” in 2009, a group of Anons executed Operation Slickpubes, in which a streaker slathered in Vaseline and pubic hair terrorized the New York City headquarters of the Church of Scientology.

This animosity toward Scientology is hardly political, almost a form of scapegoating, but it fortified the cohesion within Anonymous and created the capacity to mobilize in the real world.

Fomenting Revolution

Anonymous was instrumental in inciting and supporting the Arab Spring. In the town of Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, 190 miles south of Tunis, a twenty-six year old vegetable cart peddler named Mohamed Bouazizi lit himself ablaze.

Bouazizi was responding to an incident of police misconduct, where an officer confiscated his cart, fined him, slapped him and insulted his deceased father. He appealed to the local court but was not given an audience. This acute incident, coupled with structural economic disenfranchisement drove him over the edge. On December 17, 2010, Bouazizi stood outside the provincial headquarters of Sidi Bouzid and unceremoniously immolated himself.

The Internet exploded with #SidiBouzid and anti-Ben Ali rhetoric. [15] The Tunisian government responded by deleting dissenters’ Facebook accounts. This time, another hashtag suffused through Tunisian social media: #Anonymous.

The collective launched #OpTunisia and organized to bring down seven of the Tunisian government’s official websites, including those of the Ministry of Industry and stock exchange.[16] The entity also published a “cyber war survival guide,” sharing information from Wikileaks about Ben Ali’s corruption, and how to outsmart riot police and access proxy cites for Facebook and Twitter.

The Ali government responded with “phishing” operations to steal passwords of dissenters in order to spy on them. This Orwellian tactic backfired, and the tweets kept coming. The Ali regime crumbled when protest reached a critical mass and pressure from the international community mounted. He stepped down on January 14, 2011. Egypt, standing in solidarity with the Tunisians, began a movement of their own (which also involved Anonymous). [17]

Anonymous is extremely active, partially because affinity groups are autonomous and not bogged down in bureaucratic sludge.

The leading Anonymous scholar Gabriella Coleman writes:

“Political operations often come together haphazardly. Often lacking an overarching strategy, Anonymous operates tactically, along the lines proposed by the French Jesuit thinker Michel de Certeau. ‘Because it does not have a place, a tactic depends on time—it is always on the watch for opportunities that must be seized ‘on the wing,’’ he writes in The Practice of Everyday Life (1980). ‘Whatever it wins, it does not keep. It must constantly manipulate events in order to turn them into ‘opportunities.’ The weak must continually turn to their own ends forces alien to them.”

This approach could easily devolve into unfocused operations that dissipate the group’s collective strength. But acting “on the wing” leverages Anonymous’s fluid structure, giving Anons an advantage, however temporary, over traditional institutions—corporations, states, political parties—that function according to unified plans. De Certeau pointedly distinguishes this as strategy, which ‘postulates a place that can be delimited as its own and serve as the base from which relations with an exteriority composed of targets or threats … can be managed.’ Anonymous is not bound to any such place, and therefore does not harbor what de Certeau calls ‘a Cartesian attitude.’”

This superfluidity has proved fertile ground for collective action, including: hacking the Vatican Website (twice), #OpEgypt (where they helped people get back on the internet using the “dark net” and third party proxies), outing members of child porn rings, and BART cell phone retaliation. They also hacked Ayatollah Khameini’s official website, hacked Monsanto in the name of environmental protection and food rights, and they provided hacking tutorials and secure drop boxes during the Syrian revolts where protestors deposited information anonymously.

Anonymous has mirrored peer-to-peer websites like The Pirate Bay, and they regularly unlock software like Norton Antivirus and upload it for free. Anonymous shut down the website of “Americans for Prosperity,” the PAC funded by the infamous Koch Brothers, in support of striking workers in Wisconsin during what they called Operation KochBlock. [18]

Avenge Assange

Beginning on February 2010, Julian Assange came under fire for publishing a trove of 250,000 secret United States diplomatic cables dating back to 1966. On December 2, Bank of America, Amazon, PayPal, Visa, MasterCard and the Swiss bank PostFinance froze Wikileaks’ donation accounts. Wikileaks was crippled.

On December 8, MasterCard and Visa’s websites were taken offline with a coordinated DDoS attack, orchestrated by Anonymous in ‘Operation Avenge Assange.” This began the fruitful relationship between WikiLeaks and Anonymous.

Next came Operation HBGary. Coleman writes:

“In February Aaron Barr, CEO of the HBGary security firm, claimed to have ‘pwned’ Anonymous, discovering the real identities of top operatives. In response, Anons commandeered Barr’s Twitter account and used it to spew 140-character racial slurs while following the accounts of Justin Bieber, Gay Pride, and Hitler. They hacked HBGary servers and downloaded 70,000 emails and deleted files, wiped out Barr’s iPhone and iPad, then published the company’s data alongside Barr’s private communications for good measure.”

Most remarkably, Anonymous unearthed a document entitled ‘The WikiLeaks Threat,’ which outlined how HBGary Federal (a subsidiary dealing with federal contracts) and other security companies might undermine WikiLeaks by submitting fake documents to the site. There was also evidence of plans to ruin the careers of WikiLeaks supporters, among them Salon.com writer Glenn Greenwald.

A small crew of AnonOps hackers had started with retaliatory trolling and had ended up exposing what seemed to be a conspiracy so damning that members of Congress called for an investigative committee to be established. Given that these were private firms, the evidence obtained by AnonOps could never have been procured through legal channels such as a Freedom of Information Act request.” [19]

Anonymous had entered the major league. Since then, governments have persecuted Anonymous, beginning in December 2010 when Dutch police arrested a 16-year old for cyber-attacks against Visa, MasterCard and Paypal. [20] In January 2011, British authorities arrested five males aged between 15 and 26 on suspicion of participating in Anonymous DDOS attacks. [21]

On June 13, 2011, Turkish officials arrested 32 individuals that were allegedly involved in DDoS attacks on Turkish government websites. This attack was in response to a new Turkish mandate on Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to implement a system of filters that was seen as censorship. [22]

The two most recent rashes of arrests are also the most egregious. In July 2011, over twenty Anonymous suspects had their homes raided were arrested in a coordinated action by the US, UK, and Netherlands. [23]

On February 28, 2012, Interpol released 25 warrants for the arrest of Anonymous suspects. The suspects, ages 17 to 40, were all arrested. [24] These arrests have had little effect on the collective, though, which temporarily took down the websites of the CIA, Department of Justice, FBI, NASA, and MI6 on April 15 of 2012. [25]

Legal persecution of hacktivists is nuanced and without precedent. Advocates of Anonymous, like attorney Jay Leiderman, argue that DDoS attacks are protected speech, or “digital sit-ins”:

“There’s no such thing as a DDoS attack. A DDoS is a protest, it’s a digital sit-it. It is no different than physically occupying a space. It’s not a crime, it’s speech. Nothing was malicious, there was no malware, no Trojans. This was merely a digital sit-in. It is no different from occupying the Woolworth’s lunch counter in the civil rights era.” [26]

Wikileaks

“In an age of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.”

-George Orwell

An Australian computer programmer named Julian Assange founded WikiLeaks in 2006. The organization publishes insider leaks and original source material, serving as an historical record and journalistic resource.  It has been described as “an uncensorable system for untraceable mass document leaking.” [27] Assange has received numerous civil libertarian and journalistic awards, and was even nominated for the Nobel Peace prize. [28]

WikiLeaks is best known for its Collateral Murder video leak, thanks to U.S. Army private Bradley Manning. The video depicted an Apache helicopter mowing down suspected insurgents, journalists, and two children. One officer was heard saying that the unarmed victim “shouldn’t have brought his kids to a battle.” The footage illustrated how the use of drones and long-range weapons dissociates the solider from the horror of war.

Several of Wikileaks’ more notable disclosures took place in 2010. That year saw the release of 400,000 documents mostly relating to the Iraq War, what the Pentagon called “the largest leak of classified documents in history.”[29] These included a deliberate Bush administration policy of ignoring human rights violations by the Iraqi police, thousands of Iraqi civilian deaths that the Pentagon suppressed, Hilary Clinton’s 2009 authorization of spying activities on United Nations diplomats, and the joint efforts of Obama administration and GOP leaders to kill the investigative probe into Bush administration and C.I.A. torture practices. WikiLeaks also exposed a communiqué from Yemen’s president assuring US officials that Yemen would continue telling its citizens that U.S. military airstrikes were being carried out by Yemen. [30]

On April 25, 2011, the Guantánamo Bay Files were released. These 779 secret documents revealed that over 150 probably innocent Afghans and Pakistanis, including farmers and chefs are being held without charge. The oldest detainee is 98-year-old Mohammed Sadiq, and the youngest is 14-year-old Naqib Ullah. [31]

Also uncovered was a post-waterboard interview with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who allegedly stated that if Osama Bin Laden were to be captured or killed, an al-Qaeda sleeper cell would detonate a weapon of mass destruction in Europe, promising a “nuclear hellstorm.” He had been waterboarded 183 times—in retrospect, perhaps his Intel was corrupted by the lack of oxygen. [32]

On February 27, 2012, Wikileaks released five million emails from Texas-headquartered private intelligence company Stratfor. This was Wikileaks’ first attack on what political scientist Stacy Herbert terms the “DIC: Data Industrial Complex,” the pseudo-private system of global espionage. The leak revealed Stratfor’s close government ties, questionable interview methods (bribery, blackmail, seduction), and over 4,000 emails concerning Julian Assange himself. [33]

As an insurance policy, a 1.4 GB password-protected file has been uploaded to Wikileaks. Assange called it a “thermonuclear weapon.” The decryption password is to be released should Assange be harmed. The Swedish company Banhof hosts Wikileaks’ data in a former nuclear bunker, under the aegis of the country’s liberal free speech laws. Even still, leakers are strongly encouraged to use the Tor, an application popular among Arab Spring journalists, which routes signals such that the user is anonymized.

Storm clouds

“The people don’t want war, but they can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. This is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and for exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country.”

 – Hermann Goering

The mainstream media, government officials, and conservative political commentators have denounced Wikileaks as a “cyberterrorist” organization. Some even recommend that Assange and Bradley Manning be tried for treason and executed. [34]

On March 16, 2009, the Australian government placed Wikileaks on a blacklist of websites to be censored (it was later removed from the list in November 2011). [35]

In December 2010, the White House Office of Management and Budget sent a memo forbidding all unauthorized federal government employees and contractors from accessing the classified documents made publicly available on WikiLeaks. [36]

Diane Feinstein incited the Espionage Act in the persecution of Assange, a “threat to national security,” potentially leaking vital information to the “enemy” (there is a problem when the enemy is the “voting” public). Joe Biden assessed that Wikileaks had put American lives in danger. [37] Thomas Friedman declared Wikileaks one of the two major threats to a Pax Americana, next to the ascendant China. [38]

Despite these claims, Wikileaks employs a team that reviews all documents prior to release, redacts sensitive and unnecessary information, and several independent studies have found no harm has been done to military or diplomatic personnel. [39] Law Professor Ben Saul has stated publically that Assange “is the target of a global smear campaign to demonize him as a criminal or as a terrorist, without any legal basis.” [40]

The Supreme Court has ruled to protect the distribution of illegally gained information provided the publishers themselves did not break any laws in acquiring it. [41] This is how Anonymous and Wikileaks operate symbiotically; Anonymous acquires information and Wikileaks publishes it.

Assange’s right-hand man, Daniel Domscheit-Berg, defected on September 28, 2010. He cited lack of transparency, hierarchy and Assange’s domineering attitude as causes for his departure. [42] Several other employees have also resigned for similar reasons. In January of 2011, Icelandic minister Birgitta Jónsdóttir ended her formerly close relationship with the organization. [43] (Note: Wikileaks exposed documents on the Icelandic bank Kaupthing, which were instrumental in the country’s sweeping financial reforms. The country, like Sweden, also has liberal speech laws and has granted asylum to Wikileaks in the past).

Causing the most uproar, but ironically the issue of least importance in terms of Wikileaks’ democratic utility, is the allegation of Assange’s sexual crime(s).

In August 2012, two Swedish women began prosecuting Assange for sexual misconduct. The women were not initially seeking to bring these charges against him, but merely to track Assange down and persuade him to get tested for sexually transmitted diseases. The case was dropped the day after the announcement, and shortly thereafter taken up by Swedish Director of Public Prosecutions Marianne Ny. She ordered that Assange be subject to official interrogation. Quotations of the precise allegations can be read in the the endnotes. [44]

The timing is conspicuous, and the charges tenuous. However, whether Assange is guilty or innocent falls outside the scope of this paper. The bottom line: this type of fiasco illustrates the disadvantage of using fallible, discrete figureheads in a subversive organization such as Wikileaks.

Orderly Anarchy

There are certainly merits to leadership. A figurehead, coordinator or spokesperson can direct an enterprise and broadcast a unified message to the public. People associate iconic individuals with movements and ideas—hence symbols like Che Guevara, Marylin Monroe, and Ronald Reagan; these individuals embody a larger message.

A leader can make executive decisions and guide the group in the “right” direction. However, this argument is tenuous. The wisdom of crowds is more democratic than executive rule and better reflects the sentiment of the people, so the more the merrier when dealing with public issues like the liberation of the press.

Leadership also comes at a cost. Leaders can turn on their followers. Opponents easily demonize or blame the leader. Leaders are discrete bodies that can be extradited, thrown in jail, or otherwise neutralized. If the dynamic leader is suddenly incapacitated, the movement risks death. The centralization of power is a Tower of Babel; the more instrumental the vanguard, the greater the risk of internal hemorrhage when something goes wrong. The survivability of any system is increased with safeguards, contingency plans, and divestment of powers.

Anonymous’ guerilla tactic of hacking, data dumping and viral information flow protects the mass when any individual could be singled out as a criminal—like a protest or a riot. Furthermore, Anonymous is less bogged down in bureaucracy, needn’t wait for approval from above, and is consequently more prolific.

The clearest benefit of Anonymous’ lack of explicit, fixed leadership is the decapitation phenomenon; cut off the head of a Hydra and two grow back. The press coverage of Anon arrests rallies more to the cause, whereas Wikileaks was irreparably tarnished after the widespread, derisive smear campaign against Assange (though his associates’ polemic may have been called-for).

Anonymous needn’t worry about that. Under a leaderless system, personality clashes and egotism do not get in the way. To this point, Anonymous heartily took the advice of Samuel Johnson: “He who makes a beast of himself takes away the pain of being a man.”

They have trolled so offensively that it would be challenging for the “Internet Hate Machine” to top itself. But it doesn’t matter anyway. No one person is singularly responsible for the deliberately inflammatory rhetoric—much like how a firing squad of ten men will only have nine bullets—distribution of blame (or often, responsibility and credit).

Dozens of Anons have been arrested (and their solidarity is impressive) yet the movement does not stumble. Wikileaks’ operations have seriously faltered since Assange was put under house arrest in January of 2011 (though he has been given a television show on Russia Today).

This distribution of responsibility is also the strength of other such anarchic movements. According to political analyst and trend forecaster Gerald Celente:

“The very weakness that the people think of the Occupy movement, not having a leader, not having one message, is, in fact, its very strength. For example, take WikiLeaks, big news and doing a lot of important information combing.  But it died because they cut the head of the leader off.”

The prominence of a leader is not binary; there are shades of gray. The Zapatista leader Subcommandante Marcos is an example of this middle ground. His true identity is veiled by a ski mask but he serves in a leadership role. The militant philosopher is a charismatic, witty and poetic character. He is received as a rock star throughout Mexico. Marcos is an ingenious blend between the Guy Fawkes-mask wearing Anons and the very bold-faced Julian Assange; disguised but atomized, individual but collective:

“Marcos, the quintessential anti-leader, insists that his black mask is a mirror, so that ‘Marcos is gay in San Francisco, black in South Africa, an Asian in Europe, a Chicano in San Ysidro, an anarchist in Spain, a Palestinian in Israel, a Mayan Indian in the streets of San Cristobal, a Jew in Germany, a Gypsy in Poland, a Mohawk in Quebec, a pacifist in Bosnia, a single woman on the Metro at 10 p.m., a peasant without land, a gang member in the slums, an unemployed worker, an unhappy student and, of course, a Zapatista in the mountains.’ In other words, he is simply us: we are the leader we’ve been looking for.” — Naomi Klein

The insufferable Thomas Friedman wrote an Op-Ed in the New York Times comparing Wikileaks to the ascendant Chinese superpower:

“The world system is currently being challenged by two new forces: a rising superpower, called China, and a rising collection of super-empowered individuals, as represented by the WikiLeakers, among others. What globalization, technological integration and the general flattening of the world have done is to super-empower individuals to such a degree that they can actually challenge any hierarchy — from a global bank to a nation state — as individuals.

As for the super-empowered individuals — some are constructive, some are destructive. I read many WikiLeaks and learned some useful things. But their release also raises some troubling questions. I don’t want to live in a country where they throw whistle-blowers in jail. That’s China. But I also don’t want to live in a country where any individual feels entitled to just dump out all the internal communications of a government or a bank in a way that undermines the ability to have private, confidential communications that are vital to the functioning of any society. That’s anarchy.” [45]

His sense of the magnitude of individual empowerment is accurate, but his conclusion is flawed; in the realm of communications, anarchy (absence of a ruler) is what humanity should be striving for. Government confidentiality is not vital to the functioning of society. In fact, secrecy undermines the public good. Too often the term “matter of national security” has merely been code for “cover-up.”

“The very word ‘secrecy’ is repugnant in a free and open society. […] We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers that are cited to justify it. […] And there is very grave danger that an announced need for increased security will be seized upon by those anxious to expand its meaning to the very limits of official censorship and concealment.” -John F. Kennedy

But even if secrecy could be justified, these two organizations do little to jeopardize national security—the “enemy” employs the world’s most expert hackers—Wikileaks or Anonymous are nowhere near as sophisticated. [46]

Wikileaks and Anonymous work on behalf of the constituency. Leakers voluntarily give Wikileaks the documents that they feel the world should know about. Anonymous uses a deliberative form of democracy to launch an inquiry, like the Freedom of Information Act, into issues of social relevance.

People have a right to privacy, but the state has no such right to secrecy, especially when its own constituency launches the inquiry. Confidential communications are protected from government by the 4th Amendment. If the activities of an individual do not warrant widespread social concern, they will not be exposed by Anonymous (for lack of interest). The danger of vital political information going undisclosed far outweighs the potential for citizens to spy on their neighbors.

CONCLUSION

Regardless of whether Anonymous and Wikileaks survive in the face of the opposition, both of these crowd-sourced models have already been reproduced. The cat is out of the bag—Openleaks, Ruleaks (Russia) and Lulzsec are examples of such copycats. The fluid, spontaneous and international participatory political relations of the web are effectively digitizing the public sphere. This anarchistic structure is emblematic of the age, one of disillusionment with disingenuous representatives and figureheads.

 “There is no army that can stop an idea whose time has come.”

– Victor Hugo


References

[1]  Patrick, Werr, Fayed, Shaimaa and Golovnina Maria. “Egypt Internet Users Report Major Network Disruptions.” Reuters Africa. 28 Jan. 2011.

[2] Editorial. “Ultra Consolidated Media: Facts.” New Internationalist Magazine. 1 April 2001.

[3] Mahanta, Siddartha and Baumann, Nick. “The Story Behind the SOPA Blackout.” Mother Jones. 17 Jan. 2012.

[4] Simon, Mandy. “Senate Poised to Pass Indefinite Detention Without Charge or Trial.” American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). 1 Dec. 2011.

[5] “United National Antiwar Committee | G8 Moving to Camp David.” Anti-War Committee. 8 Mar. 2012

[6] Greenwald, Glen. “Repulsive Progressive Hypocrisy.” Salon.com. 2 Feb. 2012

[7] “Tesla, at 78, Bares New ‘Death Beam.’” The New York Times. July 11 1934.

[8] Landers, Chris. Baltimore City Paper. April 2. 2008

[9] Coleman, Gabriella. “Our Weirdness is Free.” Triplecanopy. Jan. 13. 2012.

[10] Ibid

[11] Barack, Lauren. “The Guerrilla Girls West make a stand for women artists.” Metro. April 29, 1998.

[12] Ramadge, Andrew. “Scientology protest surge crashes websites.” News.com.au. Feb. 4 2008.

[13] Braiker, Brian. “The Passion of ‘Anonymous’.” The Daily Beast. 7 Feb. 2008

[14] “Germany moves to ban Scientology.” BBC News.  8 Dec. 2007.

[15] Ryan, Yasmine. “How Tunisia’s Revolution Began.” Al Jazeera English. 26 Jan. 2011.

[16] “Anonymous Activists Target Tunisian Government Sites.” BBC News. 4 Jan. 2011.

[17] Edwards, David. “Anonymous Attacks Egyptian Government Websites.”The Raw Story. 26 Jan. 2011.

[18] Wing, Nick. ‘Anonymous’ Hackers Take Down Koch Brothers-Backed Americans For Prosperity Website.” The Huffington Post. Feb. 28, 2011.

[19] Coleman, Gabriella. “Our Weirdness is Free.” Triplecanopy. Jan. 13. 2012

[20] “Dutch Arrest 16-year-old Related to WikiLeaks Attacks”. PC World. Dec. 9, 2010.

[21]  “UK police arrest WikiLeaks backers for cyber attacks.” Reuters. Jan 27, 2011.

[22] Albanesius, Chloe. “Turkey Arrests 32 ‘Anonymous’ Members.” PCMag. June 13, 2011.

[23] “Police arrest ‘hackers’ in US, UK, Netherlands”. BBC. July 19, 2011.

[24] “25 alleged Anonymous members arrested after Interpol investigation.” Washington Post. Feb. 29, 2012.

[25] Stone, Michael. “Anonymous takes down CIA, DOJ, FBI, NASA, MI6.” Examiner. April 16, 2012.

[26] Reilley, Ryan. “‘Homeless Hacker’ Lawyer: DDoS Isn’t An Attack, It’s A Digital Sit In.” Talking Points Memo.” September 28, 2011.

[27] Moss, Stephen. “Julian Assange: the whistleblower” The Guardian. July 14. 2010.

[28] “Julian Assange nominated for Nobel Peace Prize.” RT. Feb 2 2011.

[29]  BBC News “Huge Wikileaks release shows US ‘ignored Iraq torture”. Oct. 23 2010.

[30] Greenwald, Glen. “What WikiLeaks revealed to the world in 2010.” Salon. Dec. 24 2010.

[31] Associated Press. “Wikileaks: Leak reveals new Guantanamo secrets”. The Independent. April 25 2011.

[32] Gould, Martin. “WikiLeaks: Al-Qaida Already Has Nuclear Capacity”. Newsmax Media. April 25 2011

[33] Wikileaks. “The Global Intelligence Files.” Feb. 27 2012.

[34] McFarland, K.T. “Yes, WikiLeaks Is a Terrorist Organization and the Time to Act is NOW.” Fox News. Nov. 30, 2010.

[35] “Australia secretly censors Wikileaks press release and Danish Internet censorship list”. Mirror.wikileaks.info. March 16 2009.

[36] de Sola, David. “U.S. agencies warn unauthorized employees not to look at WikiLeaks”. CNN. 4 December 2010

[37] Jackson, David. “Biden: WikiLeaks has put lives in danger.” USA Today. December 19, 2010.

[38] Friedman, Thomas. “We’ve Only Got America” NY Times. Dec. 15, 2010

[39] Klapper, V., Vinograd C. “AP review of released WikiLeaks documents raises doubts on scope of danger.” Associated Press Sep. 10. 2011.

[40] Hall, Eleanor. “Law experts say WikiLeaks in the clear.” ABC News. Dec. 7, 2010.

[41] Jones, Ashby. “Pentagon Papers II? On WikiLeaks and the First Amendment”. The Wall Street Journal.. July 26 2010.

[42] Blodget, Henry. “WikiLeaks Spokesman Quits, Blasts Founder Julian Assange As Paranoid Control Freak, Admits To Using Fake Name.” San Francisco Chronicle. Sep. 28, 2010.

[43] McMahon, Tamsin. “Q&A: Former WikiLeaks spokeswoman Birgitta Jonsdottir.” National Post (Toronto) 17 January 2011.

[44] Hosenball, Mark. “Special Report: STD fears sparked case against WikiLeaks boss.” Reuters. Dec. 7 2010.

Relations with Woman 1, who briefly worked as a spokeswoman for Wikileaks:

“According to the accounts of Assange’s associates, his overnight stays at his erstwhile spokeswoman’s residence soon evolved into a sexual relationship between the two. During one of their encounters, the woman later said, a condom Assange was wearing broke or split.”

Relations with Woman 2:

“According to an account published by London’s Daily Mail — which said it had access to heavily redacted versions of the statements both women made to Swedish police — the second woman had become obsessed by Assange after watching him on television. After hearing him speak at the seminar, the newspaper said, the woman, identified in court as Miss W, loitered outside the meeting hall, and eventually was invited to lunch with Assange and his entourage at a local bistro.

That night, according to the accounts of both the newspaper and people who were in contact with Assange and his inner circle, he and Miss W had sex using a condom.

The next morning, however, under circumstances that remain deeply murky, the sources said, Assange allegedly had sex with the woman again, this time without a condom. Then, after a meal during which the Mail says that the woman joked that she could be pregnant, they parted on friendly terms, with Miss W buying Assange his train ticket back to Stockholm.

Two people who were in contact with Assange’s entourage before, during and after these events said that while some details are still unclear, it appears that after parting from Assange, Miss W became increasingly concerned that he might have given her a sexually-transmitted disease.

According to the sources, Miss W anxiously tried to phone Assange to plead with him to go to a doctor and be tested for sexually transmitted diseases. However, the sources said that Assange had turned his phone off, leaving Miss W no way to get in touch with him.”

In [Director of Swedish Prosecution Marianne Ny’s] official statement, prosecutors added that the original ‘molestation’ investigation of Assange — which was never officially closed — also would continue and “will be extended to include all allegations in the original police report… There is reason to believe that a crime has been committed. Based on the information available, the crimes in question come under the heading of sexual coercion and sexual molestation, respectively.

[…] Assange understood in August that Swedish authorities were seeking to question him about sexual misconduct charges, but the WikiLeaks founder left the country anyway, fearing a ‘media circus,’ according to someone who spoke with him at the time.

By bolting Sweden without appearing for interrogation, however, Assange forced the Swedes and British to launch an international legal effort that has created precisely the kind of media extravaganza he hoped to avoid.”

[45] Friedman, Thomas. “We’ve Only Got America” NY Times. Dec. 15, 2010

[46] Keefe, Patrick R. “Chatter.” Random House. July 11, 2006.

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Pseudo-Protests and Serious Climate Crisis

By davidswanson – Posted on 17 February 2013

“You elected this president. You reelected this president. . . . Stop being chumps!” –Van Jones

Going in, I was of mixed views regarding Sunday’s rally in Washington, D.C., to save the earth’s climate from the tar sands pipeline.  I still am.

Why on a Sunday when there’s no government around to protest, shut down, or interfere with?

And why all the pro-Obama rhetoric?  Robert Kennedy, Jr., was among the celebrities getting arrested at the White House in the days leading up, and his comment to the media was typical.  Obama won’t allow the tar sands pipeline, he said, because Obama has “a strong moral core” and doesn’t do really evil things.

As a belief, that’s of course delusional.  This is the same president who sorts through a list of men, women, and children to have executed every other Tuesday, and who jokes about it.  This is the guy who’s derailed international climate protection efforts for years.  This is the guy who refused the demand to oppose the tar sands pipeline before last year’s election.  If he had been compelled to take a stand as a candidate there would be no need for this effort to bring him around as a lame duck.

As a tactic, rather than a belief, the approach of the organizers of Sunday’s rally is at least worth questioning.  For one thing, people are going to hear such comments and take them for beliefs.  People are going to believe that the president would never do anything really evil.  In which case, why bother to turn out and rally in protest of what he’s doing?  Or if we do turn out, why communicate any serious threat of inconvenience to the president?  On the contrary, why not make the protest into a campaign rally for the president through which we try, post-election, to alter the platform on which the actual candidate campaigned?

The advantage to the expect-the-best-and-the-facts-be-damned approach is clear.  Lots of people like it.  You can’t have a mass rally without lots of people.  The organizers of this event are not primarily to blame for how the U.S. public thinks and behaves.  But, then again, if you’re trying to maximize your crowd at all costs, hadn’t you better really truly maximize it?  Sunday’s rally probably suffered from being held on a bitterly cold day, but I suspect that most people who planned to come did come; and I’ve seen more people on the Mall in the summer for no reason at all, and many times more people on the Mall in the winter for an inauguration (which, in terms of policy based activism, is also nothing at all).

What if the celebrities generating the news with arrests at the White House were to speak the truth?  What if they committed to nonviolently interfering with the operations of a government destroying the climate?  What if they committed to opposing the Democratic and Republican parties as long as this is their agenda?  What if they said honestly and accurately that the personality of a president matters less than the pressures applied to him, that this president can do good or evil, and that it is our job to compel him to do good?

Sunday’s rally, MC’d by former anti-Republican-war activist Lennox Yearwood, looked like an Obama rally.  The posters and banners displayed a modified Obama campaign logo, modified to read “Forward on Climate.”  One of the speakers on the stage, Van Jones, declared, “I had the honor of working for this president.”  He addressed his remarks to the president and appealed to his morality and supposed good works: “President Obama, all the good that you have done . . . will be wiped out” if you allow the tar sands pipeline.

The pretense in these speeches, including one by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, was consistently that Obama has not already approved part of the pipeline, that he is guilty of inaction, that the government is failing to act, that what’s needed is action — as if our government were not actively promoting the use of, and using vast quantities of fossil fuels, not to mention fighting wars to control the stuff.

Van Jones ended his remarks by addressing himself to “the next generation.”  And this is what he had to say: “Stop being chumps! You elected this president. You reelected this president.  You gave him the chance to make history. He needs to give you the chance to have a future. Stop being chumps!  Stop being chumps and fight for your future, thank you very much.”

Reading these words, one would imagine that the obvious meaning they carry is “Stop electing people like this who work for parties like this and serve financial interests like these.”  What could be a more obvious interpretation?  You elected this guy twice.  He’s a lame duck now.  You’ve lost your leverage.  Stop being such chumps!

Nothing could be further, I think, from what Van Jones meant or what that crowd on Sunday believed he meant.  This was a speaker who had, just moments before, expressed his pride in having worked in Obama’s White House.  The fact that this crowd of Obama-branded “activists” had elected him twice was not mentioned in relation to their chumpiness but as grounds for establishing their right to insist that he not destroy the planet’s atmosphere.  They would be chumps if they didn’t hold more rallies like this one.

Wait, you might ask, doesn’t everyone have the right to insist that powerful governments not destroy the earth’s atmosphere?

Well, maybe, but in Van Jones’ thinking, those who committed to voting for Obama twice, no matter what he did, and who have committed to voting for another Democrat no matter what he or she will do, deserve particular attention when they make demands.  Paradoxically, those who can be counted on regardless, who demand nothing and therefore offer nothing, should be the ones who especially get to make demands and have them heard and honored.

Needless to say, it doesn’t actually work that way.

Our celebrity emperors attract a great deal of personal affection or hatred, so when I suggest an alternative to packaging a rally for the climate as a belated campaign event, it may be heard as a suggestion to burn Obama in effigy.  What if there were a third option, namely that of simply demanding the protection of our climate?

We might lose some of those who enjoyed burning Bush in effigy and some of those who enjoy depicting themselves as friends of the Obama family.  But would we really lose that many?  If the celebrities and organizers took such an honest policy-based approach, if the organizations put in the same money and hired the same busses, etc., how much smaller would Sunday’s unimpressive rally have really been?

(And couldn’t such a crowd be enlarged enough to more than compensate for any loss, by the simple tactic of promising ahead of time to keep the speeches to a half-hour total and to begin the march on time?  I’d pay money to go to that rally.)

The problem, of course, is that the celebrities and organizers themselves tend to think like Obama campaign workers.  It’s not an act.  It’s not a tactic aimed at maximizing turnout.  And it’s not their fault that they, and so many others, think that way.

But imagine a realistic, policy-based approach that began to build an independent movement around principled demands.  It would have the potential to grow.  It would have the potential to threaten massive non-cooperation with evil.  It would have the energy of Occupy.  It would have the potential to make a glorious declaration out of what now appears to be self-mockery when oversmall crowds of hungover campaign workers shout “This is what democracy looks like!” as they plod along a permitted parade route.

No.  It really isn’t.

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