Noam Chomsky, From the Strategic Mind to the Radical Politics of Imagination

This week marks the beginning of Obama’s second term as US President. His inauguration on January 21st coincides with the day that honors civil rights leader Martin Luther King, who delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech 50 years ago at the Lincoln Memorial. At the dedication of the Martin Luther King Monument in 2011, Obama called to make King’s dream a reality for all. In the last four years, with drone attacks and assassination kill lists, with unprecedented assaults on the Constitution, draconian secrecy and domestic spying, the yawning chasm between Obama’s rhetoric and his actions is becoming crystal clear for anyone willing to see.

Renowned linguist and political dissident, Noam Chomsky was recently interviewed by Aljazeera. When questioned about Obama’s policies and moral stance, he concluded that Obama is “a man without a moral center.” Chomsky elaborated:

If you look at his policies I think that’s what they reveal. I mean there’s some nice rhetoric here and there but when you look at the actual policies … the drone assassination campaign is a perfectly good example, it’s just a global assassination campaign.

Chomsky’s statement made the headlines of several alternative news outlets and circulated on social media. In the same interview, he talked about his own life taking two tracks: political activism and research. Chomsky spoke of how activism had always been at his core, even before he began studying linguistics. Throughout his career as a prestigious professor he consistently spoke truth to power. His analysis and remarkable grasp of the underlying political realities of a global corporate empire has been remarkable, especially his astute and scathing critique of US foreign policy. Chomsky’s assessment of Obama seems to resonate with an increasing number of progressives, who have recently acknowledged that the Obama presidency is far worse than Bush and that he has done greater damage to the Constitution.

How does this stark assessment translate to the electoral arena? Although Chomsky backed the Green Party in the primary for the 2012 presidential election, in general he has practiced and advocated, though reluctantly, the politics of the so-called ‘lesser of two evils’. In 2004 and 2008, he consistently emphasized getting the neoliberal right wing out of office as the highest priority, even saying at one point that it is a matter of the survival of our species. This came up more than once when asked about Ralph Nader and his run for president. At that time, he called the Nader candidacy a mistake. He encouraged people to vote Democrat in the swing states. This is referred to as strategic voting. Anyone following US presidential politics are plenty familiar with it.

When looked at closely, one can see how this method is actually a mental construct. The logic behind it has to do with an addictive voting pattern that for 8 years was also termed the ‘ABB (anybody but Bush) syndrome.’ The rationale goes like this; the candidate of one party might not truly represent ones interests, but compared to the other party, the prevailing fear says that he or she must win. All the rhetoric and fear mongering tends to obscure the fact that people using this logic ended up supporting a candidate who was clearly and fundamentally going to work against their interests. This became the prevailing logic of liberals and was loudly disseminated by the corporate media and even alternative news outlets. It engaged those who subscribed to it in a vicious circle that hindered them from accessing their own civic power. In reference to Noam Chomsky, I am trying to show a particular kind of thinking that he has come to represent, which is typical of the liberal intelligentsia. He has become an influential spokesman for this construct of strategic voting.

One of remarkable things that Chomsky accomplished in his life was to bring deep insight into the insidious role of the mass media in manipulating public perception. He showed how the corporate establishment has become very adept at ensuring that the public is kept ignorant or is misinformed about the real effects of Government policy. He noted how hard it is to counteract the machinations of centralized corporate propaganda. This has never been more true than at the present time. There is a huge gap in perception created by Obama’s PR machine as a progressive brand and his real actions. Those who don’t question and see the real actions behind the rhetoric are carried by PR images and slogans and are easily caught up in the faux opposition between the two parties. During election season, the masses are carried into carefully crafted, emotionally presented and generally overblown domestic issues. Issues such as the growing US poverty, banker lawlessness, illegal wars and corporate welfare are simply not allowed in pre-election discourse.

In the larger historical view, the convergence of economic and foreign policy between both parties has been taking place for some time. Some Democrats may be aware that Clinton was just as responsible as Reagan for sowing the seeds of the current demise of the middle class and rise in power of the corporate feudal system that is nearing its devastating conclusion. After all, WTO-NAFTA, ‘welfare reform’, and the lifting of Glass-Steagall protections against bank corruption occurred on Clinton’s watch. Yet, few progressives want to admit that Democratic presidents are generally selected by and work for the same bosses as the Republicans. Dick Cheney himself lavished praise on Obama’s performance not long after he took office. He could never have imagined a Democrat so effectively implementing what amounts to a furthering of the neocon agenda.

Strategic voting is a method devised for those who are more informed and knowledgeable about candidate’s policies and have an inkling that the two party system is generally flawed. They wouldn’t call it lessor of two evils if they did not think the Democrats were also somewhat evil. Back in 2008, during Obama’s first campaign, Chomsky has said that Obama’s actions are abhorrent. He could explain in depth how an Obama presidency would likely bring deep damage to the world. Yet virtually in the same breath, he flipped around and said progressives need to help him win. In the span of one paragraph, one could see this total contradiction of words and actions being displayed. Chomsky accused Obama of a huge gap between rhetoric and actions. Yet at the same time Chomsky’s implementing the ideology of strategic voting while knowing the extent of the devastation caused by Obama’s policies also reveals a similar cognitive dissonance between his own words and actions. When words do not match with actions, change is not possible. The idea of strategic voting stems from accepting a systemically corrupt two party duopoly. Thinking within this corporate-controlled system tends to reflect its very nature. It is not actual opposition, only making lip service and wishing for policy change, while fundamentally not challenging the system itself. No matter how appalled one is about the nature of the oppressive and brutal state the US has devolved into, supporting this construct means continuing to engage in a system that can never deliver real change, but can only get worse.

The host of First Voices Indigenous radio, Tiokasin Ghosthorse spoke of how the progressive left is the biggest obstacle to real change and healing of the world. He described how it is the mentality of wanting to ‘save the earth’ and looking for the solution to come from outside oneself. This creates a disconnect between intellectual knowledge and action and only helps to sustain this abstract system. He showed how in contrast to hierarchical reasoning processes, the indigenous way of thinking is never separated from the heart. He talked about a brain in the heart and said of indigenous peoples that “We think with the heart” (Lecture, New York University, June 29, 2009).

The mindset of strategic voting is generated through a particular element in thinking that prevails in academia; namely the ‘creed of objectivity’, which is practiced in physical science and has been further extended into the social and political sciences. David Scott and Robin Usher (1996) shed light on the values in this notion of presumed objectivity:

One of the most important aspects of this epistemological “good ground” is that the researcher was “objective”, i.e. he or she was unbiased, value neutral and took care to ensure that personal considerations did not intrude into the research process – in other words, that the researcher’s subjectivity has been eliminated as a factor in the knowledge claim. (p. 12)

The creed of objectivity creates an artificial separation between mind and heart. It trains researchers to consider themselves impartial and objective, as not affecting the outcome. Researchers trained in this identity as ‘neutral observers’ are divorced in their thinking from passion, morality and most of all the actions of their own will. This prevailing creed has helped to encourage citizens to feel passive, powerless or indifferent. With the absence of passionate citizens, democracy gets hollowed out to become a merely a game played by the rich and powerful. From climate change to militarism, extractive monetary policy to increasing poverty, reality gets abstracted and reduced to policies that serve only brutal commercial interests.

Chomsky spoke of how historically, the job of intellectuals in this kind of system has been to silence its critics, round up the chorus to make sure they all sing the same tune in the corporate parade. He often showed how in the West most intellectuals are loyal to the power structure and that speaking truth to power is very rare.

Chomsky himself has been that rare intellectual who does speak truth to power. By breaking out from the obedient role to the status quo, for decades he has been speaking and publishing tomes that illuminate the structural destructive working of the American empire. Yet, he too appears to have been caught within that particular pitfall of the intellect that is chained by the creed of the dispassionate observer. Through professing the theory of strategic voting to his followers, has he become complicit in the oppressive corporate strategy to prevent democracy and shut out alternative voices? With the pretense of expert’s objectivity, the idea of ‘strategic voting’ is presented as superior and reasonable. It is even brought as the only real choice and is not to be challenged.

The mentality of strategic voting has become a most effective tool for corporate power to pull the strings within the duopolistic-plutocratic party politics peculiar to the US. It helps support the false opposition and concocted dichotomies that act as a safety valve for dissent while eliminating voices for real change. In assessing president Obama’ policies, lawyer and author Glenn Greenwald articulated the actuality behind this mechanism:

I think only a Democratic president could have institutionalized the drone war, assassinated U.S. citizens, persecuted whistleblowers. And lots of Bush officials had said, “There was a lot of this stuff that we wanted to do that we knew we couldn’t do, because had we tried, there would have been an enormous storm from Democrats, from the media, and we just couldn’t do it.” But Obama can do it because he brings progressives and Democrats along with him. Mitt Romney never would have been able to cut Social Security or target Medicare, because there would have been an enormous eruption of anger and intense, sustained opposition by Democrats and progressives accusing him of all sorts of things. President Obama has the ability, as he’s proven over and over, to bring Democrats and progressives along with him and to lead them to support and get on board with things that they have sworn they would never, ever be able to support. And for that reason, he is in a much better position, he’s much more effective, at institutionalizing these horrible policies than Mitt Romney or any other Republican would have the ability to do.

Knowledge and intelligent analysis are essential for right action. Yet, knowing and even speaking truth to power is not enough. When faced with the harshness of what seems to be unchangeable reality, the mind is easily defeated and tries to deny possible alternative views. It convinces us with fear that one cannot do it -it is not realistic. ‘A third party is not viable!’ or ‘You can’t change the system itself or walk away from it.’ But this is like living a Catch 22. If someone doesn’t start, no one will start. Every real movement for social change in history started from one person saying that they will break this habitual pattern of thought, take a risk and do something different. If everyone looked around at each other and waited for another to step in first, no movement for change would ever begin. There is a gap between what one knows and the action needed to overcome and transform a given reality.

There is something that makes a person say; ‘I may be the only one who thinks like this. Perhaps no one will follow me, but I will do it anyway, because it is right.’ What is this unique human quality of independent action against all odds? Without it no social progress would ever be made. If either black people or women had said in the last century that it is not realistic to demand the right to vote because no one else is doing it -then nothing would have changed. The same goes for all other great movements in history. It always starts from a small number of people who took the courage to step out of the dominant paradigm of thinking to become that first person to act and then inspired others to follow.

There is another capacity that goes beyond just knowing the political reality that is needed to make a movement and progressives have often failed to cultivate this. The intellect tends to dismiss the creative and courageous voice of the heart as naive or not realistic. This closes the mind to a possible future that can only come from that place. When Chomsky said that Nader’s run for president was a mistake, the motive of Nader’s actions was possibly something that could not be understood by this brilliant mind that could fully penetrate the destructive folly of corrupt corporate politics. The creed of objectivity cannot overcome or transform reality as it is. All it can do is to accept it, lament it or adjust itself to it. It can only reflect what already is. Logical mind cannot create or imagine something new. Inspiration, enthusiasm and even idealism that verges on naivety are what unites the will and the head that is often separated within the liberal intelligentsia. This new capacity can be called the intelligence of the heart.

Heart intelligence encourages people to imagine and take risks. It overcomes the apathetic mind that is disguised as pragmatism and realism. We saw the awakening of this capacity in the rise of Occupy in 2011 when people across political lines came together on the streets of New York and around the world. For a time, people broke out of the prison of corporate-controlled politics, turning to one another to imagine and create a new world.

“The Occupy movement just lit a spark.” Chomsky said. He himself saw it and was touched by the upsurge of passionate energy. Chomsky explained how the movement changed the social condition of corporate control, hooking people’s minds in TV mindsets that subjugate the masses under a manufactured worldview, keeping them separate from one another. He pointed out that the historical significance of the Occupy Movement was the way it brought marginalized discourse back to the center and created something that had never existed before. With cooperative communities and open spaces for sharing; libraries, common kitchens etc., people began learning to live together on a fundamental and unmediated level.

The corporate culture tends to crush dreams and deprive us of the intrinsically human ability to imagine a different future. It ridicules passion as naïve and idealism as unrealistic. It attempts to convince those who break away from habitual patterns of thinking to give up on change and accept the bleak options handed to them. Occupy brought back what had been marginalized and pushed away not only by neoliberal corporatism but also dismissed by our compliance through the fear-driven rationale of strategically voting for evil. What is emerging is a new creed that overcomes the sense of defeat and apathy, which has neutralized dissent against a morally bankrupt system. It is not debate by persuasion, nor the monologue of exclusion, but a striving for listening where diverse voices can enter. It is not rule by top-down experts, but consensus building through a peer network of collaboration. Instead of acting out of fear and trying to restrain the worst effects of an exploitative system, the radical politics of imagination is simply the heart acting as if it is already free.

All his life, Chomsky has followed two tracks; academia and activism. Those two paths do not have to be separate. Academia’s creed of objectivity can at best only defend what it already knows. It engages people with defensive politics and does not have the power to freely imagine the future. The scholarship of all great minds can find the passionate heart;  the source of all creative power to which it becomes subservient.

Recently, Chomsky’s engagement in activism has gone beyond researching. Early in 2012 right after Obama’s signing of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that undercuts the Bill of Rights, Chomsky joined journalists and other prominent figures to file a lawsuit against the United States government challenging the law. In October, 2012 he made his first visit to Gaza Strip and actively connected with the struggle of Palestinians.

Chomsky spoke of how having more privilege means more responsibility and how political engagement is a task for all human beings. This responsibility starts first with ourselves. A truly democratic society requires each of us to make honest assessments about our own actions.

On Monday, Obama takes an oath to uphold the Constitution, which has increasingly been dismantled before our eyes. By turning inward toward our deepest fears and dreams, we can free the great power of creativity within that has been captivated by this corporate system. At the age of 84, with the advent of Occupy and people’s uprisings around the world, Noam Chomsky is perhaps beginning to open a path of new possibility where mind and will can come together in the heart with the radical politics of imagination.


Scott, D., & Usher, R. (Eds.). (1996). Understanding educational research. New York: Routeledge.

Ghosthorse, T. (2009, June). A country of people without owners. Unpublished lecture presented at New York University. New York, NY.

Posted in Democracy, Noam Chomsky, Occupy, US Politics | Leave a comment

Aaron Swartz, Canary in a Coal Mine for the Information Cartel

by Sage Ross (Flickr: Boston Wiki Meetup), via Wikimedia Commons.

by Sage Ross (Flickr: Boston Wiki Meetup), via Wikimedia Commons.

“We used to have a fight about how much the internet would grieve if he died. I was right, but the last word you get in as the still living is a hollow thing, trailing off, as it does, into oblivion…” Quinn Norton, a close friend of Aaron Swartz wrote these reminiscences in a moving goodbye note to the young internet activist who committed suicide on Friday inside his New York apartment. With the news Aaron Swartz had died, it was as if the whole internet mourned. The story made it to the front page of Spiegel Online, Germany’s  largest online news outlet. By Saturday evening, a Google News search on Aaron Swartz netted more than 4,460 results. Reactions to his death ricocheted all over online. His life had touched millions of people, those who know him personally and those who didn’t. It didn’t seem to matter. Aaron Swartz had made a deep mark in the world and the loss was felt by millions.

Nobody really can tell for sure what caused him to take his own life. He reportedly suffered from depression. His trial was scheduled in April for allegations of illegally downloading millions of academic journal articles. He was facing multiple felony charges and if convicted he would face up to 35 years in prison and owe over a million dollars in fines.

On Saturday, the Swartz family and his partner released an official statement. It read that Aaron’s death was “the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach.” There is no doubt that the federal government’s aggressive prosecution contributed to his death.

In his short 26 year life, Swartz had accomplished so much. When he was 14, he helped write the RSS specifications. At 16, he helped found Creative Commons, making it easier technically and legally for people to share online. At 18, he was the only beta-tester on John Gruber’s Markdown tool for writing webpages using a simple plain-text syntax. At the age of 20, he co-founded Reddit and then later at 24 years old, he launched Demand Progress, dedicated to improving civil and rights and to government reform. And perhaps most significantly, he was instrumental in the defeat of the internet censorship bill SOPA.

His writing in 2008, ‘Guerilla Open Access Manifesto‘ might outline his personal creed best:

“Those with access to these resources — students, librarians, scientists — you have been given a privilege. You get to feed at this banquet of knowledge while the rest of the world is locked out. But you need not — indeed, morally, you cannot — keep this privilege for yourselves. You have a duty to share it with the world. And you have: trading passwords with colleagues, filling download requests for friends. Meanwhile, those who have been locked out are not standing idly by. You have been sneaking through holes and climbing over fences, liberating the information locked up by the publishers and sharing them with your friends. But all of this action goes on in the dark, hidden underground. It’s called stealing or piracy, as if sharing a wealth of knowledge were the moral equivalent of plundering a ship and murdering its crew. But sharing isn’t immoral — it’s a moral imperative. Only those blinded by greed would refuse to let a friend make a copy …. We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access. With enough of us, around the world, we’ll not just send a strong message opposing the privatization of knowledge — we’ll make it a thing of the past.”

He stood up for the culture of sharing and advocated for the free flow of information and equal access to knowledge. It is this profound commitment to these values that prompted him to download millions of academic journal articles from JSTOR, which caused him to become the subject of a federal investigation.

An expert witness for Swartz wrote in detail, clarifying misinformation surrounding his plight and this alleged crime. He stated how downloading of journal articles is not an offense worth 35 yeas in jail:

“Aaron Swartz was not the super hacker breathlessly described in the Government’s indictment and forensic reports, and his actions did not pose a real danger to JSTOR, MIT or the public. He was an intelligent young man who found a loophole that would allow him to download a lot of documents quickly. This loophole was created intentionally by MIT and JSTOR, and was codified contractually in the piles of paperwork turned over during discovery”.

A Harvard professor and Swartz’s friend, Lawrence Lessig called out the prosecutor’s bullying and overcharges brought upon him:

“From the beginning, the government worked as hard as it could to characterize what Aaron did in the most extreme and absurd way. The ‘property’ Aaron had ‘stolen,’ we were told, was worth ‘millions of dollars’ …. the question this government needs to answer is why it was so necessary that Aaron Swartz be labeled a ‘felon.’”.

The government’s prosecution of Swartz brings up a serious concern. Timothy B. Lee, contributing writer for Forbes Magazine described how it is a sign that America is losing “the sense of humor that has made it the home of the world’s innovators and misfits” and that this country has become intolerant to idealists and those who rebel against authority. He reminded how, “A generation ago, we hailed Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg as a hero. Today, our government throws the book at whistleblowers for leaking much less consequential information.”

Whistleblowers are canaries in a coal mine, signaling the decay of culture and an urgent need for deep social and political change. In a sense, Swartz was like a whistleblower who exposed the wrongheadedness of a culture driven by sterile commercial interests and greed. In the summer of 2012, Swartz spoke about the overreach of the US government in shutting down Megaupload, a HongKong based company that allows file storage and viewing. He spoke about the possible extradition of the founder, Kim Dotcom and ridiculousness of the legal premise and hypocrisy of the FBI. In retrospect, it appears in his case Swartz was being harassed by the US government, seemingly driven by a similar agenda.

The investigation of Aaron Swartz came off as a witch-hunt. The government’s trumped up charges were a sign that they were desperately trying to make an example of this young digital activist. JSTOR themselves were not interested in pressing charges.

A corporate culture of insidious ownership and control uses the law to disguise exploitative practices with sophisticated concepts of ‘copyright’ and ‘intellectual property’. It justifies this culture of illegitimate plunder with legalistic rhetoric by framing the natural act of sharing as a crime and calling it ‘piracy’, as if one is stealing something. Swartz fought for all of us, reminding us that true copyright is our right to copy and share, not to own and monopolize knowledge. To the corporate mindset, he appeared as a threat to their culture and became a target for retaliation by the information cartel.

Like so many whistleblowers, Aaron was bullied, mistreated and in the end crushed by an empire of greed. In a sense, he was broken down by the corporate state, a culture that punishes sharing and rewards hoarding and that glorifies war and violence.

The relentless persecution of many brilliant activists has become a pattern with the US government. Julian Assange, who has been fighting for public’s right to know and doing what the Press is supposed to do; to check and balance those in power is treated as a villain, made into an enemy of the state. He was under house arrest and now stuck in an Ecuadorian Embassy despite being granted asylum.

Alleged whistleblower Bradley Manning acted on his conscience, which told him information should be free. He is a true soldier who fought to bring information about war crimes and the dirty dealings behind closed doors out into the public domain where it belongs. Yet, he has been detained without due process and tortured. He is being treated like a spy when prosecutors in the court-martial during pretrial hearings this past week cited an 1863 case, implicating an offense of ‘aiding the enemy’.

Jeremy Hammond, alleged hacker for Stratfor emails has been in jail over 300 days without trial. He was denied bail by the judge whose refused to recuse herself despite a blatant conflict of interest. Here is someone who poses no danger to the community being treated like a terrorist.

Similar criminalization and attacks have been carried out on racial minorities for a long time. This goes all the way back to the genocide of indigenous people, exploiting non-white cultures or trying to erase them; labeling blacks with a stigma of subhuman and demonizing those of Muslim descent with a pretext of terrorism that continues to this day. Now, with laws like NDAA, noone can deny how this culture of control through fear has become the new norm.

On Jan 11, 2013, a bright light burned out. Aaron Swartz was not only a prodigy. He was a genius with technical skills and articulated political thoughts. But more importantly, he was a thoroughly good person. Many who were touched by his life noted that he was always so willing to help people. “What can I do? I can build it. I can solve it. I can make it possible”. All of his work was based on that simple yet extraordinary generous heart.

“He used his prodigious skills as a programmer and technologist not to enrich himself but to make the Internet and the world a fairer, better place. His deeply humane writing touched minds and hearts across generations and continents. He earned the friendship of thousands and the respect and support of millions more.”

The words from those who are closest to him best describe who he was. Perhaps that is how we can remember him.

Aaron Swartz was a canary in a coal mine; a mighty hero of the open web, yet also sensitive and fragile. He might have endured his inner struggle in darkness to show us how we are losing what is truly important to us. He did this through the way he lived his life.

We have lost this amazing human being, yet his message lives on as his inspiration goes viral on the internet. It is now the responsibility of those who are inspired by this selfless soul to join the battle that he had been fighting. Perhaps one important lesson we all can learn from this is that we should not have to hold funerals for young heroes like Aaron but instead we need a funeral for the culture of control that seeks to restrict our inherent right to be human.

Posted in Aaron Swartz | Leave a comment

Beyond the 6th of November; The Rise of the Peer Progressive

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As the 2012 US presidential election looms, the familiar red and blue fever spreads across television and computer screens like another World Series or Superbowl. This election is no different than any other, as the corporate two party duopoly propagates the illusion of choice and sucks people into a presidential charade between two sock puppets that essentially work for the same bosses.

What is presented as a democratic election is in reality far from democratic. Author of the book, No Debate: How the Republican and Democratic Parties Secretly Control the Presidential Debates, George Farah revealed how the US presidential debates are set up to serve the interests of the two parties and their corporate sponsors. He exposed how the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) is a corporate-funded organization run by the Democrats and Republicans and controls who is allowed in, as well as what questions are asked and how the debates are packaged for the media.

Since the CPD was formed, third parties have been completely obstructed from even attending the debates. Green party presidential nominee Dr. Jill Stein and her running mate, Cheri Honkala were arrested when they tried to attend the second presidential debate this year at Hofstra University in Hempsted, N.Y. This shocking reality is nothing new and is not even questioned by the corporate media. In 2000, Ralph Nader was not allowed to even attend the debate even though he had a ticket. Nader’s efforts in the electoral arena in the last 10 years have revealed an insidious obstruction of ballot access for third parties. He rightly compared the onerous state statutes to racist Jim Crow laws. He sued the Democratic Party for their attempts to take third parties off the ballot.
Eliminating voices that challenge the monopoly of two parties is the first thing done to maintain control of power. After this, there needs to be a perception of false opposition where focus is given to concocted or minor differences rather than looking at the pervasive common agendas. In an interview at DemocracyNow!, author and attorney Glenn Greenwald pointed out the method of false objectivity practiced by journalists to frame the debate:

… To watch Martha Raddatz, posing as an objective journalist, embracing what is an extremely controversial premise in her question, and then watching both candidates accept that assumptions rather than challenge them, sort of is the microcosm of how these debates work, which is, they pose as objective, neutral moderators designed to have this wide-ranging debate, when in reality it takes place within a very suffocating, small confine of ideas.

It is becoming undeniable that the US political system is so corrupted that at the Federal level, there have been no real choices for a long time. The ideology of the ‘lesser of the two evils’ has become registered as the norm, so a majority of American accept it as unchallengeable reality. American voters start out already defeated before this propagated farce, by engendering their own subconscious hopelessness, which the system depends on for its validation. Most people react with emotions to the stimulus of the bipartisan manufactured pendulum that swings between false hopes and fears, with hyped issues about gay marriage, abortion and cutting Sesame Street. Meanwhile, endless illegal wars, assassinations, banker bailouts, eroding civil liberties and destruction of the middle class will carry on as before when the election is over. It will be business as usual. False fear or false hope is what people have to choose between with these money-soaked selections. After the 2008 empty Obama Hope and Change campaign, the pendulum now has swung back to domesticated fear with Mitt Romney.

Nader’s independent ticket in the past two Presidential elections revealed decadence of a political system that may be broken beyond repair. When this game is so rigged, so completely against the people’s true interests, engaging in the system by voting for one of these two parties will not change anything and actually helps legitimize this blatant plutocracy. What is left for the American people? There has been a call in the social media sphere to boycott the voting altogether this year and disengage from the election, in order to delegitimize this tacit theocracy that worships money and systemic corruption. On November 6, should people just sit at home and choose not to vote for the president? Are there any other effective alternatives?

Author Steven Johnson offers an optimistic view. In his book Future Perfect: The Case For Progress in a Networked Age, he points to an emergence of new political philosophy that he terms the ‘peer progressives’. He defines these people as individuals who believe in decentralized, bottom up peer networks and progressive ideas that originate through these systems. These people do not think important challenges will be solved by markets, the state or private sectors or by any single ideology or profit-oriented hierarchy. Peer progressives simply do not fall into the typical left-right political spectrum.

Johnson described how the egalitarian nature of Internet connection allows unfiltered creativity of users to directly flower through the system of mutual acknowledgment. He calls for directly democratic participation on many levels. Johnson offered the example of how Twitter hashtags have became a platform for social movements like Occupy and the Arab Spring. Before Occupy found its way into the encampment of Zuccotti Park, it first was an idea, a meme and a hashtag.

Now people are directly connecting with one another and peer-networks are arising to solve social problems. When the formal route of nation-state diplomacy fails, citizens of one country begin to directly connect with citizens of other countries to circumvent the hate and fear-mongering of their governments. For instance, with peer-to-peer communication, Iranian people have begun to support Israeli commoners and vice-versa, showing the world a new form of diplomacy that emerges from unmediated human connections.

More and more people are bypassing centralized state authority. A volunteer-run network called Global Voices provides translation for the international blogosphere, helping messages get through language barriers. Ivan Sigal, executive director of the organization pointed out how bloggers and citizen journalists are now working as cultural mediators.
Ad hoc movements have become instant mobile global aids that show what grassroots humanitarian intervention looks like, as opposed to being guided or co-opted by state or corporate interests. Telecomix is a decentralized cluster of Internet activists committed to freedom of speech. It has no mailing address, country, bank account or physical headquarters. With no official membership, people spontaneously show up in chat rooms and start to participate. Telecomix provided tech support for the Arab Spring, both in Tunisia and Egypt with modems faxes facilitating the flow of information. When Youtube is blocked in countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan, it is mirroring the videos to keep information flowing.

In the age of Internet connection, virtually everything is global. One country’s problems are not solely its own. People in different parts of the world engage in each other’s challenges and offer new perspectives. The US presidential election is not only a concern for the American people. People around the world are affected deeply by the leadership of such an empirical force that can project military and economic might around the world with such powerful and often devastating consequences.

In mid-October, the whistle-blower site WikiLeaks launched a presidential campaign meme; a message to vote with your money to support accountability in government. In conjunction, they began an election-related data release with the intent to inform the U.S electorate prior to the election. The accompanying press release stated, “The only legitimate government is one elected by an informed population”.

From a suburban backyard home-studio in Melbourne, JuiceRapNews, the creative duo of Giordano Nanni and Hugo Farrant offered a performance that shed light on the dire dysfunction of US electoral politics and revealed it to be a global issue.

There is a network emerging that is not defined by the corporate copulation of false political oppositions. Nor is it defined by libertarian or socialist views or any specific nationality. What we are seeing is the rise of the peer progressive, a new form of party-less affiliation that moves beyond the political and ideological divide as well as the nation-state paradigm. This way of networking reflects the way the Internet is built around a constantly evolving structure of peer networks.

On the West Coast of the US, these decadent forms of democracy are on trial. This November, California citizens are set to vote on a citizen-penned initiative for labeling GMO food. The only way this law could have moved forward to this stage is by bypassing the two corporate parties altogether. Both Democrats and Republicans have consistently given Monsanto and related companies a blank check by letting them form government policy regarding food. Now, Direct Democracy is stepping in because the ‘representative’ facade has failed. This distrust of leadership revealed itself again after the hurricane hit New York City. Occupy Sandy quickly emerged from the grassroots to create an effective emergency relief operation. Globally, CryptoParty, a decentralized collaboration that guards against surveillance and invasion of privacy is popping up in cities around the world.

Some have labeled these newly emerging networks within an old framework of party politics, attempting to demonize or co-opt them, yet the uniqueness of peer progressive networks lie in their indefinable and evolving nature. These are networks that are not based on a particular top-down ideology or party affiliation, but decentralized peer connections made through people freely coming together. For this reason, peer progressives are felt as a real threat to the existing two party politics and nation-state paradigm, as they cannot easily be contained or manipulated with false dichotomies and divide-and-conquer tactics.

The emergence of peer progressives might simply be an indication that we are moving into a truly global era that is no longer defined by a nation-state perspective or loyalty to a particular party or ideology. When one looks around, one sees connections within emerging networks of citizens around the world. We are not alone. When the spectacle of these political charades is over and the illusion of the invincibility of empire begins to collapse, we might find ourselves in a larger web that has been quietly cultivating itself behind the scenes.

In this election, some are saying vote for no one as president, but I say it is time to vote for everyone. The era of politicians and plutocrats is nearly over. When we realize our own significance, together we will find new strength in global solidarity. Just consider that about half of the Senate and Congress are multi-millionaires. This means you and I have more in common with the sweatshop workers in China making I-phone parts or bloodied drone-bombed attendees at a wedding in Waziristan than we do with an owner of Walmart  or the political leaders in Washington.

Every time we buy local or non-corporate, we are voting for ourselves by keeping value in our communities. Every time we support our brothers and sisters globally in a nonviolent way, we build true human community. When we choose to connect with our neighbors through free sharing and common cause, with creative social and economic currencies we build just society. Whenever we support clean and independent energy, we participate in our own power instead of giving it to a system that destroys our health, economy and humanity.

Power multiplied by direct common will is a transformative force in everything from economies to systems of governance. Peer-progressives are on the rise. Where we go from here is up to us.

Posted in P2P, Peer Progressives, Ralph Nader, Rap News, Steven Johnson, Third Party, US Politics, WikiLeaks | 1 Comment

WikiLeaks and the Anarchistic Roots of Global Uprising

Image Credit – mary rose lenore eng

There has been increasing interest in anarchism, with people around the globe writing and talking about it. A whole new generation is beginning to discover anarchists from the past like Emma Goldman and Alexeyevich Kropotkin and a new documentary is in the works. The word anarchy is swimming through twitter feeds and Facebook shares, coursing through avenues of the public mind. Ideas of mutual aid and voluntary association are becoming more and more relevant as the world stands in dire need of solutions to the current ballooning crisis of economic and political corruption.

Interestingly, the word is bandied about by governments with a very different meaning. On one side, the security apparatus of the US has generated a demonized version of ‘anarchist’ to promote fear within the general public by equating it with chaos and violence. ‘Black Bloc’, ‘terrorist’ and other loaded terms are associated with anarchism to engender fear and justify repression. Recently, the FBI raided Northwest activists and search warrants were used to find ‘anti-government or anarchist’ literature. Three young people were subpenaed and jailed for refusing to answer questions at a grand jury.

On the other side, the term anarchy is used to represent unmediated people power; non-violent, horizontally based social structures and direct action to awaken others to the working of the dominant system. It has come to mean defiant decentralization, where instead of confronting state power with a reaction to control, people are simply beginning to divest from the hierarchical oppressive systems and working together to build alternatives.

From the Arab Spring to Occupy, a new form of organizing is emerging. The recent uprisings around the world are marking a new era of social change. This trend stands out from movements of the past, as global solidarity and rapid mobilization through social networking reflects the inherently decentralized and stateless habitat of the Internet. Repressive regimes such as China and increasing surveillance and censorship in the Western world have tried to control the discourse. But, as long as the neutrality of the Internet is maintained, this explosion of online sharing of information knows no borders and as people rapidly adapt to free sharing of information, it is proving very difficult for governments and corporations to control.

Decentralized peer-to-peer organizing rejects centralized control maintained through the now decadent structures of representative democracy. Anthropologist David Graeber pointed to the anarchistic roots of Occupy,particularly its commitment to the leaderless, consensus-based decision-making practiced in the General Assembly of Occupy. For the last two years, the online network Anonymous also gained substantial media attention and modeled effective direct action with a leaderless culture and operations organized by spontaneous horizontal affinity groups.

It is noteworthy that all this has ushered in a new trend of activism never seen before. The global solidarity protests like the one against the Iraq War and the earlier resistance against the WTO and IMF were largely ignored by mainstream media and didn’t manage to sustain the connection or energy needed to actually change the system. In fact, after millions of people took to the streets, the wars went forward without a hiccup. Nothing really changed as a result of one time protests.

Occupy and the current uprisings are not like those conventional short-term actions. Encampment was a brilliant idea, as tents were used to root ideas of change into the system. Despite the eviction of Occupy and it appearing to lose its initial vitality, their tenacity revealed the effectiveness of their methods. Brutal police attacks on occupiers and Washington’s reaction by passing laws such as the NDAA are signs that the government is now becoming very afraid of the populace. What made this shift possible and brought the movement to mount a meaningfully challenge to the existing economic structure was the wholesale rejection of systems based on centralized entrenched authority.

We live in a globalized society where ‘consent of the governed’ is now manufactured through propaganda or denied by military force of authoritarian regimes. This use of coercive force has been largely hidden from a vast majority of people around the world. It is within this climate of public apathy and ignorance that WikiLeaks rose to prominence. At a rally for Julian Assange in Melbourne, Dan Mathews, one of the founding members of WikiLeaks remarked:

The people of this world are treated like mushrooms: Kept in the dark, and fed shit… WikiLeaks is an anti-mushroom organization and that we imagined WikiLeaks would be a force for the empowerment of the people of the world to use facts, to use understanding, to use science to build a better world.

In the article Building on WikiLeaks, Phillip Dorling brought out a little known fact; namely the key role that WikiLeaks supporters played in igniting the Occupy movement. He claims this was partly behind what became one of the largest social movements in the US. OWS did not only start from the Canadian Adbusters magazine or the online collective Anonymous, though he acknowledged the importance of their actions. He traced it even further back to 2010, when civil arousal emerged around the time of the Collateral Murder video release.

Despite the mainstream media’s disinformation against the organization, no one can deny how a new vocabulary of transparency and government secrecy has entered into everyday discourse. Along with it came the notion of ‘illegitimate governance’. The gestation of this concept is found in Assange’s early philosophy. In his early writing, Conspiracy as Governance, he articulated how “….. illegitimate governance is by definition conspiratorial—the product of functionaries in ‘collaborative secrecy, working to the detriment of a population.”

At key places in history, the right term at the right time captures a rising sentiment in society and becomes a sign that guides the world in a certain direction. Illegitimate governance is one such term. It allowed people to question the given blind trust of government and authority and moreover to realize that their governments are not what they represent themselves to be.

The idea of primary western powers in the world being viewed as illegitimate at first seemed radical, but over time and with WikiLeaks continuous leaks and US government’s reactive but ineffectual response, for many people it is gradually becoming accepted as reality. Of course, leaked material was not the only thing that is causing public trust in the institutions to crumble. The slow motion implosion of the global monetary system with high employment and mortgage bubble crashes are helping fuel this public perception of illegitimacy. The perception that a government is illegitimate, when backed up with empirical, verifiable data is a critical punch to aid that process.

WikiLeaks source-driven journalism and radical transparency exposed the hidden actions of those who claim authority. This sense has even infiltrated the American population, which is generally insulated by corporate media from the wholesale fraud and other crimes of their governments. Trend Kays on Minnesota Daily spoke about how the revelations changed the American perspective of the world. Now, more American are becoming aware of the morally bankrupt reality of imperial power and the economic and social injustice happening in their name.

WikiLeaks was a trigger that opened a floodgate. What came forth was a civic outcry of resistance that has been percolating quietly underground beneath the veneer of apathetic corporatized politics. The world has seen the youth empowered by the radically decentralized medium of the Internet. In late 2010 John Perry Barlow, political activist and essayist tweeted: “The first serious infowar is now engaged. The field of battle is WikiLeaks. You are the troops.”

When PayPal, Visa and MasterCard started their monopolistic financial blockade on WikiLeaks, Anonymous came forward to defend the freedom of speech that WikiLeaks stood for. An idea behind the mask formed a new kind of legion; “We are Anonymous. Expect us”. Ever since this defense of WikiLeaks, Anonymous has become a force to be reckoned with. What followed was the year of online hacktivists. Anonymous and LulzSec engaged in a non-violent cyber-action and helped explode the myth of imperial impunity.

In the Final episode of Assange’s “The World Tomorrow”, Tariq Ali and Noam Chomsky, both well-known activists of the intellectual left discussed how the West completely failed to anticipate the Arab Spring. Tariq Ali spoke of Arab empowerment:

We are witnessing that democracy is becoming more and more denuded of content. It’s like an empty shell, and this is what is angering young people, who feel “Whatever we do, whatever we vote for, nothing changes”, hence all these protests.

Courage is contagiously moving across the screens into the streets. The fire of self-immolation and global awakening, confirmed by US-Tunisian diplomatic cables spread like wildfire through social media and led to unprecedented uprisings in Egypt and around the world.

No one can deny the effect that WikiLeaks has had in the world. One small whistleblower website with no office or physical home became an incarnation entry point for a revolutionary challenge of imperial power. WikiLeaks showed what the power of digital horizontal mobilization can do.

In its mission statement, Wikileaks claimed that its goal is to open governments and achieve justice by means of transparency. From the outset, this phenomenon appeared to be guided by similar anarchistic principles that founded the Occupy movement, particularly in that a stateless entity with no allegiance to any country or corporate structure can reject the validity of outer authority on its face. This is found in the day-to-day operation of the organization. For example, WikiLeaks Twitter account, as of Oct 2012 has over 1,650,000 followers. That is influential without taking power from others and has come about with no corporate structure carrying it, purely through bottom up freely chosen affinity. It is a one of many coalescing points of decentralized power.

WikiLeaks is a prime example of what I term an anarchistic meritocracy. This social form stands in contrast to the corporate model of hierarchical and centralized distribution and communication. By creating and working with structures true to the inherently egalitarian platform of the Internet, anyone can help determine what individual or collective action is worthy of support. Merits are determined by peers, by each person’s input and sharing, rather than coming from above or filtered by an select group of people. The basic idea is that if something has merit, it is shared and amplified through enthusiasm and moral resonance.

The founder of the organization also held some vital anarchistic ideals.Assange’s philosophical roots in the Cypherpunk movement reveal subtle anarchistic principles. In a 2011 CBS News 60 minutes interview, Steve Kroft asked Assange if he was a subversive. Asssange said that WikiLeaks is subverting illegitimate authority and the real question should be whether the authority in question is truly legitimate.

In a 2012 Rolling Stone Interview, he expanded on this view of authority, noting that he is not against authority in itself:

Legitimate authority is important. All human systems require authority, but authority must be granted as a result of the informed consent of the governed. Presently, the consent, if there is any, is not informed, and therefore it’s not legitimate.

This nuanced attitude toward authority is shared by most anarchists, both past and present. Anarchism is not inherently against authority or government itself, but only authority that is illegitimate. Russian revolutionary Mikhail Bakunin, widely viewed as the father of anarchist theory said:

The liberty of man consists solely in this: that he obeys natural laws because he has himself recognized them as such and not because they have been externally imposed upon him by any extrinsic will whatever, divine or human, collective or individual.

David Graeber clarified a misconception about anarchy and its resistance to acknowledging authority: “To be an anarchist is to be critical of authority and always examine it… to see if it is legitimate … you don’t worship authority as a thing in itself.”

Graeber also described how the consensus process is by default a basic rule of anarchy; “If you can’t force people to do things they don’t want to do, you’re starting with consensus one way or another.” The core idea behind this is that no one can govern others without the consent of the governed. This was also one of the formative passions at the heart of American Constitution.

Anarchism’s honoring of self-governance and the demand for consent of the governed was also acknowledged by Julian Assange. Citing Madison’s view on government Assange said:

… people determined to be in a democracy, to be their own government must have the power that knowledge will bring – because knowledge will always rule ignorance. You can either be informed and your own rulers, or you can be ignorant and have someone else who is not ignorant, rule over you.

For Assange, the power of knowledge meant that public access to information is crucial for self-governance. The act of leaking and sharing vital information is a way to facilitate this process. Through exposing the secrecy of government and corporations, WikiLeaks reveals the true motivations of those in power who influence the will of the people. When this vital information is made available, the public can make conscious and intelligent decisions to give consent to government authority or not. Assange also said, “Leaking is inherently an anti-authoritarian act. It is inherently an anarchist act”. The act of leaking is an attempt to free the individual will enslaved to a system that exists without the consent of the governed.

In Wired Magazine’s Lamo chat logs, alleged whistleblower Manning characterized the possible release of the US diplomatic cables, saying:

Hilary Clinton, and several thousand diplomats around the world are going to have a heart attack when they wake up one morning, and finds an entire repository of classified foreign policy is available, in searchable format to the public… it’s open diplomacy… world-wide anarchy in CSV format… its Climategate with a global scope, and breathtaking depth… its beautiful, and horrifying…

He might have seen what is to come. He continued:

and… its important that it gets out… i feel, for some bizarre reason it might actually change something… and god knows what happens now hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms … if not… than we’re doomed as a species.

Humanity is facing an unprecedented catastrophic crisis. With financial collapse, sub-prime mortgage and other monetary crimes, the political and economic worlds are showing signs of deep systemic failure. The assumed solid foundations of trusted institutions are slowly crumbling. In the vacuum after the fall of deeply diseased institutions, chaos, riots and violence might follow.

Anarchy is often thought of as chaos and this chaos is associated with destruction and as being antithetical to order. Yet as the Chinese proverb says, crisis is opportunity, so here is other side of chaos: its connection to creative potential.

A crisis of legitimacy leads to a new beginning and this is what we are seeing around the world with the Occupy movement and its progeny. By means of transparency, WikiLeaks made a crack in the veneer and revealed the current illegitimate state of many governments. It opened a way to imagine a way of governing ourselves.

As many leaders and institutions no longer trustworthy, are we now moving into a leaderless transition? What will emerge from the ashes after the collapse of plunder capitalism? What could occupy this newly opened possibility? Dissolving old forms does not have to be painful and horrific. It is actually a necessary process for creation. Chaos or creation? This is a choice. The global revolutionary force of anarchy is the power within each person to choose their own destiny. This power has just begun to wake up from a long slumber.

Note: A section of this paper is an excerpt from the article, “Insurgent Anarchism; An Idea Whose Time Has Come – Part III”.

Posted in Anarchism, Anonymous, Assange, Revolution, WikiLeaks | 5 Comments

WikiLeaks, Shattering the One-Way Mirror of Total Surveillance #TrapWire

Image Credit – Somerset Bean

On August 12, the London 2012 Olympic Games closed with performances by Britain’s biggest international stars to celebrate the achievements of the world’s great athletes. The month-long hype and fever of the Olympics that grabbed world attention was finally coming to an end.

The mainstream media have been in a frenzy about the Olympic events and continued to focus on trivial differences between Obama and Romney for the US presidential show. Meanwhile behind the scenes in the US, civil liberties are being stripped away. The chilling signing of NDAA, illegal drone attacks implementing Obama’s kill list, along with his unprecedented prosecution of whistleblowers have been unfolding quietly in the background. Many seem to be asleep to the shift in the fundamental nature of government.

After World War I with the rise of Hitler’s Third Reich, Germany fell into a totalitarian murderous police state where citizens were stripped of guaranteed basic rights. A heightened climate of fear back then kept people in silence and made them blind to the fast changing direction of society. How did this happen? Why did ordinary Germans allow fascists to take over their country?

History repeats itself. After 911, the political climate in the US rapidly changed. With rhetoric of a ‘War on Terror’ and the image of the Twin Towers collapsing, the mood of ultra patriotism and vendetta was activated. As waving American flags swept across the country, the nation was led into the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. With the passage of the Patriot Act, American legal structures and power balance post 911 have changed dramatically.

Now in the summer of 2012, behind the glorious spectacle of the Olympics, the final links in the chains were being welded. Welcome to 1984. Orwell’s dystopian Police State is already here. The word ‘Anarchist’ has become a twisted propaganda term for terrorist, expanding the use of that concept to include peaceful protesters, making it possible to treat anyone who challenges state authority as a criminal. The term was used as a pretext to justify police brutality and FBI raids of activist’s homes.

For those in the West who think that censorship and blanket surveillance only happens in China or Iran, they are mistaken. Western countries are moving to become full-on surveillance states and now the interception goes across borders. There are repeated efforts to set up censorship of the internet. Along with the UK and Canada, the US’s NSA illegal spying on US citizens has gone exponential. In Australia, a bill is under consideration with new ‘security’ measures to retain customer’s phone and Internet data and compel the populace to give up their computer passwords.

Yet in this digital age, information mobilizes incredibly quickly across borders. Government actions taking place behind the scenes are not so easily kept secret. Recently, The Twitter hashtag #TrapWire started trending and making the rounds on social media and the word about this spying program spread like wildfire, all the while being ignored by corporate media.

Hacked emails from the private intelligence firm Stratfor released by WikiLeaks as the Global Intelligence Files (GIF) revealed a discussion about implementing this massive electronic spying system called TrapWire, originating from a firm called Abraxis. Russia Today (RT) reported how a major aspect of this program involves installing thousands of sophisticated surveillance cameras with highly accurate facial profiling technology in many major US cities and interfacing this with other data collected on ordinary citizens not suspected of a crime. The creation of this system is reported to be linked to former senior CIA intelligence officials and recorded data is being stored at a massive central database center.

The Age, a Melbourne – based newspaper on August 13, reported that the aim of TrapWire is “to prevent terrorist attacks by recognising suspicious patterns in activity. It forwards its reports to police departments across the US and law enforcement organisations such as FBI and US Department of Homeland Security.” The article also revealed that the page on TrapWire’s website listing their executives and their ties to the CIA has been recently removed.

Kenneth Lipp @kennethlipp on Twitter noted how all of the US Army contracts for TrapWire were posted within two weeks after the emergence of OWS. This finding helps paint a fuller picture when it is seen in context with the timing of Obama’s signing of NDAA.

The PrivacySOS article Trapwire and Data Mining: What We Know put the recent revelation of this spying program in fuller context by listing samples of egregious abuses of power in the US in the past months to show how learning about TrapWire isn’t necessary to realize the severity of the emerging total surveillance state in the West. Nevertheless, the TrapWire story is confirmation of a subtle but deep change in the fundamental nature of a society devolving into a high-tech police state. No matter the fine details of the program, the reality is that all US citizens are being treated as potential enemies of an increasing militarized government that primarily serves the corporate elite.

At the 2012 June Socialism Conference, writer and constitutional attorney Glenn Greenwald talked about increasing surveillance in this society. He spoke of how we are now being watched at an unprecedented level. He then articulated the power of information control and manipulation that comes with gaining this much knowledge about someone. He shared various cases of experiments showing the effects of being watched in a total surveillance environment. For instance, some experiments showed how students in the presence of cameras altered their behavior. This breeds conformism and suppresses creativity. He noted how this kind of surveillance is like a one-way mirror behind which those who surveil hide their identities and conceal actions and intentions.

Perhaps this one-way mirror is a fitting metaphor for the culture we now live in. Over the years, increasing government secrecy has created a wall between governments and the common people who the politicians are supposed to serve. This wall has become a mirror that separates those who govern and the governed with a degrading and inherently corrupt power structure. Those on the reflecting side of the mirror are silently and unconsciously deprived of their power to shape and guide their own society.

We are all inside the mirror. Everywhere we look, what most people see is the reflection of corporate values and fears that penetrate us from the other side of this one-way mirror. To the degree that we are not aware of it, we are shaped by this invisible web; misguided  perspective of corporate governance as the norm. We are manipulated and rendered passive in the activity of perception. The force of surveillance works to reduce us into distorted reflections in a mirror and its secret operation keeps most people blithely unaware of how far society has degraded.

Greenwald ended his presentation on an empowering note as he showed how we can counteract this insidious surveillance. He pointed out that WikiLeaks punched a hole into the one-way mirror and technology such as the TOR network can assist anonymity online to get beyond the prying eyes.

Freedom in all communication needs to be guaranteed in a free society. Shared information brings awareness. It becomes knowledge that awakens us to the existence of the mirror and connects us to our fellows. More and more people are coming to realize how they are watched, controlled and governed by forces that they didn’t consent to. This awakening generates the power to resist and the will to change the situation.

We have seen this rising collective power arising in the case of the online protest of SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act) and ACTA (the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement). After WikiLeaks released the secret draft of ACTA in 2008, the intentions and motives of the Motion Picture of America and their partners were revealed for what they are.

ACTA is an international instrument of censorship camouflaged as intellectual property/ copyright law, which bans free sharing and controls the flow of information. When people begin to see true motives of what is concealed, then they can act on what they know and  prevent this slide toward an extreme authoritarian society. Massive global internet protest arose and stopped these censorship bills. Though other versions are trying to get through the backdoor, this was clearly an epic win for the global online community. It is undeniable that information provided by WikiLeaks and mobilization of citizens were vital factors for that victory.

Now once again, thanks to WikiLeaks release of these Statfor emails, the heightened level of surveillance is now exposed. The courage of those who access and spread vital information fuels online social networks and creates a powerful flow of information sharing. In the case of TrapWire, @not_me  and @Asher_Wolf played this vital role.

Is this kind of information dissemination and awareness of the despotic nature of government the very thing that those in power are afraid of and want to suppress or censor? Perhaps this would explain Obama administration’s unprecedented war on whistle-blowing.

As WikiLeaks released the trove of documents concerning TrapWire, their site, its mirrors and other affiliated sites came under massive continuous DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks. On August 9, WikiLeaks Press tweeted insight into this attack:

On the following day WikiLeaks account tweeted:

Later, a group identifying itself on Twitter as AntiLeaks claimed responsibility for the attack. The power of sharing versus the desperate clinging to secrecy and control of information are clashing online. This regime of surveillance and censorship is attempting  to seize the basic autonomy of citizens that is protected by the Constitution. It is desperately trying to maintain control over a growing global network of citizens who are calling for transparency and free flow of information.

Dennis Aubrey sang a song on Sunday 15th July for Julian Assange at a rally in support of Assange and WikiLeaks at Sydney townhall.

You’re dirty little secret ain’t secret anymore. We know what you’re re doing in your dirty little war. It’s the same thing you been doing time and time and time before …. It’s hard to keep a secret in the age of information, one little button pushed, and its out there for every nation. Everybody understands the current situation because Julian Assange is around.

WikiLeaks has been effective with revealing the secrets and this is why Julian Assange was held without charge on house arrest and is now holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy seeking asylum.

In late 2010, John Perry Barlow, political activist and essayist tweeted:

This battle continues, now escalating into full-on surveillance onto the city streets. Australian activist Asher Wolf tweeted:

She called for a non-violent campaign on Twitter against TrapWire. There is a coalition building to develop strategy for fighting against this new development. The online collective Anonymous launched #OpTrapWire to bring attention to the issue.

WikiLeaks smashed a hole in the one-way mirror of secrecy and surveillance. Nothing can stop the movement of information once it is freed. Mirror sites are being put up to maintain access to vital information. Informed citizens spread information around the globe faster than the hands can work to take them down. The more those in power attempt to suppress either speech or sharing information, the more the eyes of the world are opened, triggering greater awakening to see the true face of fear-based power that clings to this crumbling façade of Democracy.

History will always repeat itself unless those actors that are in it wake up to their vital role in shaping it. By sharing of information and creatively developing alternatives to a broken economic and political system, people around the globe can awaken within the rapidly changing scenery and participate in shifting its direction. Active awareness will penetrate the surveillance cameras and render them useless. Only collective knowledge and actions infused by openness and sharing can shatter the glass of this one-way mirror and free the world from this epidemic of control and illegitimate governance.

Note: This piece was originally published at Associated Whistleblowing Press (AWP) on August 13, 2012. The article published by the Age cited in this article was pulled since this article was published. Here is a commentary by Barrett Brown on this action by the Age.

Posted in Surveillance, TrapWire, WikiLeaks | Leave a comment

WikiLeaks: Activist or Journalist? Pulling a Yes Men on Bill Keller

On Saturday evening, what appeared to be a New York Times op-ed piece by Bill Keller supporting WikiLeaks emerged on twitter. For WL supporters, this was too good to be true, as someone who had shown much animosity toward WikiLeaks appeared to be speaking in their defense. This turned out to be a well crafted hoax. The stunning prank was believed by almost everyone as the only difference was the URL. The article borrowed words from Keller’s emails and mimicked New York Times’ home page. It fooled journalists and embarrassingly even the Time’s tech writer Nick Bilton. It was surreal, as Keller, someone who had come to represent a ‘journalism’ that bends over for the US government, now appeared to stand behind WikiLeaks. This lasted for hours before it was finally debunked. Later in the day, WikiLeaks released a sequence of tweets that admitted they were involved in the production of this fake Bill Keller op-ed.

Shortly after the revelation of the hoax by WikiLeaks, some people expressed dismay, saying that they may have damaged their own credibility by crafting this prank. Salon blogger and lawyer Green Gleenwald wrote a piece highlighting the strength of the Internet in correcting errors, using the original debunking of this article as an example. Later in an update, he expressed his ambivalent reaction to WikiLeaks’s claim of responsibility for it:

“I don’t know if this claim of responsibility is true or not. Either way, it doesn’t strike me as a good idea for a group that relies on its credibility when it comes to the authenticity of what they publish — and which thus far has had a stellar record in that regard — to be making boastful claims that they published forged documents. I understand and appreciate the satire, but in this case, it directly conflicts with, and undermines, the primary value of WikiLeaks.”

But let’s look more closely at Gleenwald’s reaction here. Does this hoax really discredit WikiLeaks’s work and betray the organization’s values?

WikiLeaks first emerged onto the global stage with its release of the Collateral Murder video in April 2010. At that time, the sensational title Collateral Murder triggered unfavorable reactions. The political slant created through the naming of the video was seen by some as an act of editorializing at best and blatant manipulation of perception. Critics referred to a supposed journalistic ethos of unbiased or balanced reporting and portrayed WikiLeaks as violating it.

WikiLeaks engages in scientific journalism. Their leaked documents have an impeccable record of authenticity. They also have never failed to protect the anonymity of their sources. They have claimed all along to be a journalistic entity. In looking back, we can see that not only are they journalists, but they have released more scoops than all established media institutions combined. Bill Keller himself in the past has openly admitted that WikiLeaks is practicing journalism, but a type that differs greatly from traditional forms like the New York Times.

In addition to WikiLeaks’ purpose of publishing complete, authenticated documents, their other role should not be forgotten. “We are an activist organization. The method is transparency. The goal is justice” said Assange (April 18, 2010). This organization, with honest, upfront disclosure of their agenda employs the creed of transparency which allows them to connect with what has become taboo in conventional journalism, passion for justice and an openly stated ethos of responsibility.

For instance, in the context of their leaks, publishing all source material keeps journalism more honest and situates the events in a more open forum. When disclosure of motives that framed the conclusion is made immediately available to the public, people can participate effectively in the process of forming perception. “Because Assange publishes the full source material, he believes that WikiLeaks is free to offer its analysis, no matter how speculative” (as cited in Khatchadourian, 2010). Only when this scientific approach is taken along with full disclosure of one’s intentions does a space open up for true editorial freedom. This freedom allows one to move into the subjective field with integrity. In the case of titling the gunship video, Assange was upfront about the motives behind it. He spoke how WikiLeaks wanted “to knock out this ‘collateral damage’ euphemism, so when anyone uses it they will think ‘collateral murder'” (as cited in Khatchadourian, 2010).

With honest disclosure, political slant becomes a sort of creative license. Their creative titling of the video at that time was meant to combat the official military narrative and it’s Orwellian euphemism. The recent Bill Keller hoax was implemented to highlight the hypocrisy of the New York Times and bring attention to their silence on the corporate banking blockade of WikiLeaks. It was also created as a direct message to the New York Times and Keller’s silent complicity with the US government and private companies like PayPal attacking the First Amendment. With major influential media, silence itself can mean complicity. Within 24 hours of their action, WikiLeaks disclosed their responsibility for the fake op-ed and said why they did it. How long did it take for the New York Times to take responsibility for the WMD lie they disseminated that led to the deaths of millions in Iraq? – They never really did. It is always important to put things in context.

On Twittersphere, some recognized this current WL stunt as art of political activism. Back in 2008, the Yes Men, Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, pulled a prank of writing a spoof edition of the New York Times. They wanted to show what real change could look like. They set it 6 months ahead to show what would happen if people’s imaginations were freed. The headline of the spoof announced the end of the Iraq War. It was printed in a form that was so high quality it successfully fooled many New Yorkers.

A creative surrealistic act can for a moment open people’s minds and effectively bring attention to issues that are obfuscated or ignored by the mainstream media. Like the Yes Men’s creative stunt, WikiLeaks’ fake op-ed falls in the category of creative activism. It is important to note that this is not in any way related to their release of documents. It is the art of satire with a touch of surrealism that temporarily twists reality to engage the public in thinking about the world in a different way. In a sense, it is no different than an op-ed. Yet, with this they used an unwitting New York Times as a vehicle to make a powerful statement.

Some see this kind of act as a creative deed, while others might disapprove. Perhaps WikiLeaks is ushering in a new form of journalism that is more decentralized and interactive. They show us that writers too can connect with their passion and invite the world to imagine a different reality. Their innovative style also is a way of staying true to the original role of the media, that of calling truth to power. Only now WikiLeaks also is performing as a watch dog to the established media. If journalists betray their true profession according to the First Amendment, it appears that now on the Internet they can be called out for it. Is WikiLeaks an activist or a journalistic organization? By their own admission, they are both.

Note: This piece was originally published at WL Central.

Posted in Bill Keller, Creative Activism, Journalism, NYT, The New York Times, The Yes Men, WikiLeaks | Leave a comment

Children of the Internet, Their Eyes Are Watching

Image Credit – Anonymous

We now live in a world where information travels across the globe with the speed of light. People connect instantly across borders. The Arab Spring was live-streamed and tweeted while it was unfolding. The Internet was a revolutionary tool. The net-generation discovered what it can do. Now, global networking and instant communication have completely transformed the social and media landscape.

Some worry that this rapid expansion of technology can deprive people of real social interaction, creating overexposure to screen-based sensory stimulation. I share that concern and I believe no amount of Internet communication and connection will be able to replace face-to-face human interaction and doing work out in the community. I am also aware that control through surveillance and censorship is increasing in cyberspace. But something new is emerging in the digital space that signals a significant change in human consciousness.

After a long darkness of failing civic power and deadening apathy, something has shifted. In late 2010, John Perry Barlow @JPBarlow, political activist and essayist tweeted: “The first serious info-war is now engaged. The field of battle is WikiLeaks. You are the troops.”

In the last two years, a new strain of activism arose from cyberspace. WikiLeaks’ guerrilla journalism blazed onto the world stage, exposing illegitimate government secrecy, corruption and war crimes. Bound by an allegiance to the free flow of information, the loosely tied online collective Anonymous formed a new legion engaged in hacktivism. People around the world came forward to stand up for freedom of information and speech.

By 2011, the dark cloud of apathy was lifting. Newly empowered global citizens emerged from network 2.0. Once the genie was out of the bottle, nothing could stop it. From the Arab Spring to the Spanish revolution and the insurgency of Occupy, the world was in the midst of a global awakening. No one can deny how the structures of the past are being shaken by an urgent call for deep change in society.

The stage was set by a new generation of youth, arising in the digital age. Throughout the Western countries, bubble yuppy children and computer geeks have shown that they are not what the media portrays them to be, selfish spoiled kids indifferent and apathetic. They care. The network of online individuals saw injustice and were outraged. Anonymous called them, “the Children of the Internet”; This new generation rose out of linear structure itself, transcending it digitally.

I believe that the power of this generation is not just the effect of social media, with unprecedented information sharing and networking, but something internalized that enables them to counteract the dominant world order outside of cyberspace.

Social scientists and journalists tend to look at problems from an economical and political perspective. But here I would like to move discourse into the psychological realm. What effect does the current type of capitalism, which is based on global corporate dominance have on how we relate to one another and define ourselves?

Social systems operate under a set of values which in large part govern the actions of those who are in it. Capitalism is like software, an idea installed in social frame of Western society. For decades, it ran like an operating system that is now being corrupted by a backlog of unnecessary and decadent old forms and is in a spiral of self-obsolescence.

Imagine the ‘Eye of Providence‘ that appears on every dollar bill. This Eye is now a metaphor for a mechanism of centralized force that is commercially driven, attempting to control all that moves in its sight. Within this system we are seen and defined by the Eye of capital control. This single-eyed perception has the effect of mesmerizing those in its gaze to unknowingly become a part of that system of control through monetizing and commodifying human labor and earthly resources.

Welcome to the land of estranged capital. We live in an out of control debt economy created by a shadow private monetary government called the Federal Reserve. We are born seemingly enslaved to this system. All become subject to the machinery of the Eye which sees all life as a resource for profits. Schools teach children to conform and adjust their actions accordingly -to be rewarded or condemned in its line of sight. Under this objectifying power, dominant western culture first begin to lose connection to outer nature and then to our own human nature. Both are disdained as exploitable or something to be conquered. We become subordinate to an outer valuation that ranks humanity based on our differences.

The lines drawn on the map and world are divided territory to help maintain the controlling artificial construct of the nation-state and now that of the transnational corporation. Countries outside of one’s own become foreign lands to be feared. Those that have not been ‘Westernized’ become third world, ‘undeveloped’ countries maintained for resource and labor plunder.

The perception created through the Eye of power dehumanizes and commodifies people to become passive and obedient consumers and products. Divided by race and class, we began to see each other as not brothers and sisters, but as someone to compete with in an economical Darwinism or survival of the most heartless.

The Eye is watching. In its sight everyone is placed on the ladder of hierarchy. Anyone who refuses to be identified with it and challenges its power is punished. Virtues that do not fit with the patriarchy are excluded. Yet those virtues pushed away by a corporate hierarchy never actually disappear. They are intrinsic to the nature of humanity: compassion, creativity, caring for and sharing with others. They were suppressed by the mainstream culture, waiting for a chance to resurface. Many feel they don’t have a place and that there was no alternative. The Eye seduces us, presents this capitalistic corporate world as real and necessary and that its survival requires that we sell our core humanity to market value. The force of economic domination increases. This Eye pierces into every aspect of life, expanding its occupation globally.

Some resisted its force or have been running away from it. Those who had no place left to go might have found a path to alternative reality. Beneath the hardened concrete soullessness of Western civilization, there was a hidden stream of resistance and flowing life. It was an underground cyberspace. With tools of anonymity and encryption, some found a way to break free from the Eye that scrutinizes. Familiar ground fell away. One begins to ‘see’, ‘feel’ and ‘sense’ the other anew.

In connections made online, you are not alone; someone on the other side of the world is there with you. Unhindered by corporate filtering, people are now sharing thoughts, frustrations, ideas and passions. Many young people experience a connection on the Internet that feels quite real and is now weaving a global web culture. This newly formed network confirms something that had been intrinsically felt; that we are one big family living on this planet. Children of the Internet remember; we are not only defined by race or nation; we are all children of the earth and all life is equally precious and sacred.

This culture of the web is experienced differently than all that came before it. Piotr Czerski opens the manifesto for residents of this new culture:

“We, the Web kids; we, who have grown up with the Internet and on the Internet, are a generation who meet the criteria for the term in a somewhat subversive way. We did not experience an impulse from reality, but rather a metamorphosis of the reality itself. What unites us is not a common, limited cultural context, but the belief that the context is self-defined and an effect of free choice”.

In the Web culture, information flows freely and diverse points of views can emerge and dialogue with one another. It is not the authority of the Eye that filters and imposes one-sided views, but those who examine and select ideas. Their identity is not defined by a nation-state and one particular culture. Global connections and those shaped by interaction with others take precedence over all traditions, language, social status and history. The web culture values sharing and cooperation rather than monopoly and domination. For the most part this is translated into freedom of speech, free access to information and the ability to share without filters or ownership.

In time, the force of fear penetrated into cyberspace. Big brother surveillance tries to track every click, every keystroke. Now this generation no longer cares to escape, no longer turns away from the Eye that tries to steal the power to see each other truthfully and replace it with desperate attempts to maintain the deception.

“We explore… and you call us criminals. We seek after knowledge… and you call us criminals. We exist without skin color, without nationality, without religious bias… and you call us criminals. You build atomic bombs, you wage wars, you murder, cheat, and lie to us and try to make us believe it’s for our own good, yet we’re the criminals. Yes, I am a criminal. My crime is that of curiosity. My crime is that of judging people by what they say and think, not what they look like. My crime is that of outsmarting you, something that you will never forgive me for”. (Loyd Blankenship, a.k.a.The Mentor, Jan 8, 1986)

The resistance has begun. For Internet children, reality is subversive and surreal while the line between fiction and reality blurs. They have seen themselves in films like The Matrix, with Neo’s fight against the system, to the battle against the Evil Empire in Star Wars, or wearing a Guy Fawkes mask in V for Vendetta.

In a most recent episode, Rap News posed a burning question for this generation:

“Though it might at times have seemed a bit like science fiction, where it’s always been much easier to espy the division between good and evil, and who is on which side of the schism. But can’t a touch of fantasy also help us perceive that our own story has indeed often been about challenging the monopolies and dynasties which have shaped our views for centuries”?

This generation’s battle is unfolding before our eyes with Julian Assange’s saga. His extradition case and the US prosecution is revealing to the world what’s really behind this fear-based power. Media has become the Eye that squashes truth and excuses violence and exploitation. Hypocrisy of leadership inverts the law to play a double standard of justice with corporations bowing to government in the financial blockade of WikiLeaks, and government serving corporations with thieving bankers controling the economy.

Young people are now seeing and participating in a global battle for freedom as if this was something that they have been waiting for their whole life. Around the world people are confirming each other’s power and raising hands to say: I am here. Count me in. I refuse to be defined without my say. I can define and write my own story. I am here to see the world, to see you.

“We are the ghosts you have created. Message to the people: You will find liberation. You will find ‘awesomeness’. You will find magic. You will find the way to break your own limits. But, who are the guise with the key to get all of that? It’s not the government. It’s not the military. It’s not a big corporation. No. It’s you”.

We have felt freedom, remembered our connection to one another. This generation has opened its eyes. In the outer world, perception governed by the central Eye still permeates. What we encounter is a gap, how we are seen and defined in the Eye of hierarchy and truth about who we really are.

Freedom found in cyberspace gives the strength to awaken in the activity of perception and counteract the forces outside that try to maintain monopoly and illegitimate governance. This is the power of the Internet generation. It is not just information shared through social media, nor Instant Message technology, but this inherent, mutually awakened consciousness that cannot be objectified.

“We are becoming the agents of perspective. This generation is burning the mass media to the ground. We are reclaiming our rights to world history. We are ripping open secret archives from Washington to Cairo. We are reclaiming the rights to share ourselves and our times with each other — to be the writers and agents of our own history”. (Julian Assange, July 29, 2011)

Viral revolutions and Occupy brewing around the world are the eyes of humanity meeting the machinery of hypnosis that has lulled previous generations to sleep. No single Eye can put the world under its control. The whole world is watching. Citizen journalists, bloggers, crowd-sourcers and activists; ordinary people are now empowered too bring in diverse views to create their own world.

Image Credit – Anonymous

Look at what happened with the recent shooting of young African American Trayvon Martin. The Eye that sees blacks as inferior embodied by George Zimmerman was met with massive public outrage. Here people were saying we care, we remember our humanity and we will not bear lies of perception that try to separate us. It was a moment when we saw the truth of our common humanity in the face of rank injustice in the streets.

What set social media in motion is this awakening. The Internet has become a tool to mobilize a passion for truth. One by one people blaze online with the torch of our heart’s seeing. The courage to open eyes and confront forces that oppress is contagious. A network of individuals who commit to stay awake can bring new vision and free the world once captured by the hateful locked gaze of power.

The Children of the Internet are watching. Their eyes penetrate deception and corruption of power. They see a future beyond monolithic control, a world conceived through their unlimited imagination. This is a new generation of hope. They are here growing up to become the world they wish to see.

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