Conversations we need to have- ‘World Tomorrow’ episode 8

Episode 8 of the series ‘World Tomorrow’ hosted by Julian Assange raises some important questions about the future of our collective freedoms, highlighting some very grave predictions about where we are heading and suggesting where we might look for a strategic response. In many a sense this episode is an important review of how the internet and modern communication methods have been developed and subverted. It shows with clarity the role that WikiLeaks has in contemporary society and why we need to fight to protect the organisation and its workers. It also demands of us that we accept the responsibility of our own agency.

Looking in detail at mass surveillance as a means of contemporary governance, Jacob Applebaum, Andy Mueller-Maguhn, Jeremie Zimmermann and Julian Assange discuss the trajectory of the cypherpunk movement and its role in the protection of freedom. Surveillance has been an effective means of control in western societies since the 17th century (see, for example, the work of Foucault here at Wikipedia). What marks our contemporary age is the scope, scale and economic efficiency of mass surveillance systems- systems that are unregulated and which allow for the neo-colonialist domination over less powerful countries:

“…. if you’re dealing with evil countries and you bring them surveillance equipment to do evil things, you will benefit because you will learn what they are listening to, what are they afraid of…. and that’s the reality why surveillance systems are not regulated.”
Andy Mueller-Maguhn, World Tomorrow, episode 8

In reminding us of the role of control as a method of governance in neo-liberal consumerist society, the consumer movement is exposed as a false ideology- any framework which could catalyse the agency of its citizens is increasingly owned and regulated by the corporations that make up big-Gov. Freedom becomes marginalized in the public sphere where you must remain an individual; you and your needs alone are what matters (as long as they are needs met easily by consumerism) because this serves the market state. You are not the consumer- you are the sales pitch:

“….in Facebook actually the customer or the user is not the customer, the customer… the user is actually the product and the customer is the advertisement companies.”
Andy Mueller-Maguhn, World Tomorrow, episode 8

The extent and dominance of mass surveillance techniques gives rise to a vision of our future as one where:

“….slowly we will end up into a global totalitarian surveillance society. By totalitarian I mean a total surveillance, and that perhaps there’ll just be the last free living people – and these last free living people are those people who understand how to use this cryptography to defend against this complete, total surveillance.”
Julian Assange, World Tomorrow, episode 8

UK legislation is being passed that will increase the right of those that govern to have access to, and to keep, all communications being passed through the public sphere. Phone calls, emails, text messages will be stored- without the need to have a prior suspicion that something illegal is going on. Coupled with the Justice and Security bill, which calls for the increased access of closed court proceedings, we can perhaps be forgiven for thinking that Julian’s vision is not that far off what we are achieving here in the UK. This is not an open society. This is serious stuff.

Following this analysis, Julian Assange asks:

“We saw that there was an atomic bomb and a peace movement came up in response .. So I wonder if…we need a sort of equivalent response; that this really is a big threat to democracy and to freedom all around the world and it is a threat that needs a response….”
Julian Assange, World Tomorrow, Episode 8

The discussion moves on to explore what “efficient techniques” need to be adopted (see Julian Assange, episode 7 of the World Tomorrow for more on this) in response to this threat. What is suggested is that we require a cohesive partnership between those that have built and developed open technologies and the agency that resides within the citizenship of open societies. For while technological enterprise can be an effective tool in demanding justice, we (the citizens around which our societal frameworks are constructed), need to realise our potential to be active agents of freedom:

“…. it is in fact the agency of everyday people that it’s important to understand here, and technobabble is not the thing that is important. What matters is people actually getting involved in that narrative and changing it while they still have the power to do so, and the human aspect of that is, in fact, the most important part of that… Because there is at least the argument that we do live in a democracy, that we are free, that it is supposed to be that we are governed through consent. And so, if everyone understands what is going on and we find it is not something we consent to, then it is very difficult to keep up that and just pass those as laws and do it without the consent of those that are governed.”
Jacob Applebaum, World Tomorrow, Episode 8

Thus we need a two-headed strategy: one where we fight to retain the role of open technologies as a tool in active resistance, and one where we acknowledge our responsibilities to democratic politics as a mechanism not there for us but there because of us:

“the power of the State and the power of some companies may always exceed the power of the geeks we are, and how we will try to… to build and spread those technologies. We may also need, while we are building them, laws and tools that will be in the hands of citizens, to be able to – if not always in real time – control what is being done with technology, be able to sanction the ones that use them in an unethical way or violate citizens’ privacy.”
Jeremie Zimmermann, World Tomorrow, episode 8

We need to acknowledge that our activities within the political structures of our country is a vital component to our demand of a fair and just society. Democracy cannot be ever fully realized and must be consistently fought for and critiqued. If we can see something is wrong, we have a rational duty to change it. When we are not afforded a clear view of what is going on or where we find our political agency suppressed we need to dissent. And this requires a third pillar of action- we need a mechanism which exposes what is wrong in our society as governance, in it’s function to control, has its anchors deeply embedded in closed and covert communication techniques. Resistance cannot be efficient unless we understand actively where control is being exerted, for example:

“we’ve had the democratic debate; ACTA has been demonised in the public sphere; we’ve won the narrative but, behind the scenes, secret bilateral treaties have been set up which are achieving the same result anyway, it’s just subverted the democratic process…”
Julian Assange, World Tomorrow, episode 8

The movement behind WikiLeaks demands of us a higher calibre of social critique- a deep understanding of the terrain in an effort to make the most rational decision about how to proceed. What the market state has taught us however is something different- it demands that we take a consumerist approach to our political endeavor; how a theory or policy is presented and packaged has become the message of importance, regardless of any lack of substance to the quality of the proposal. Our decisions are rapid and short term, if we decide to make them ourselves at all.

Which is what brings us back to why WikiLeaks is such a vital component of the open society we wish to have. In demanding that we see and understand, WikiLeaks reminds us that:

“…all our decisions, individual decisions, our political decisions, are based upon what we know. Humanity is nothing but what we know and what we have. And what we have can be replaced, and degrades quickly. And what we know is everything, and it is our limit of what we can be. So before we embark on any particular political stratagem, we first have to know where we are because, if we do not know where we are, it is impossible for us to know where we are going.”
Julian Assange, Oslo Freedom Forum, April 2010

If we accept as a starting point that we need a framework and, secondly, that all frameworks corrupt freedom by necessitating some decisions and pathologising others then we must understand that our societal processes are necessarily vulnerable to corruption and injustice. In this we can subvert the panopticon gaze of those most powerful back in on themselves; focusing scrutiny on those that set the parameters of our societal frameworks, the parameters on our citizenship. We should be forever present watching, taking note and making up our own minds.

The structures that bind our society are both liberatory and corrupting; they offer us the scaffolding from which we can build more than individual connections and yet they offer us limitations to our very being. Understanding this as a constant tension- that democracy is neither ever fully achieved nor fully avoided- is an insight that will keep us ever vigilant. We are, each of us, born to navigate the entirety of what happens between birth and death successfully and it is within the very elements of humanness that our freedom lies:

“Authoritarian regimes create forces which oppose them by pushing against a peoples will to truth, love and self-realization.”
Conspiracy as governance– Julian Assange

all quotes from episode 8 have been taken from the fantastic transcriptions over at the WikiLeaks Forum

You can exert your political might by (among other things):
contacting your MP and demanding that your voice is heard. Find an ‘Open Letter to David Cameron, Prime Minster’, here which you can copy and paste from
-Urging your MP to sign this Early Day Motion
-Going along to demonstrations such as the day of Action Against ACTA (June 9th) taking along resources from our demo kit (here)and here and talking to others about why WikiLeaks is so important
-Joining in discussions over at the WL Forum where you can find details of the numerous and wonderful WikiLeaks supporter-projects
-Donate to WikiLeaks here

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