The Great Big Thing(tm): Lost Religion Edition

One of the unique ideas posed by “Hypernormalization” is the contrast between John Perry Barlow’s Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace and William Gibson’s Neuromancer where corporate networks control all commerce in secret. For most of my adult life, I have always been able to reconcile both ideas: that the compulsion of corporations to amass data in secret – which translates to wealth and power – and the duty of hackers to expose it, and for pirates to redistribute it. I was comfortable with the idea of the gentrified surface web was a front for the deep web (not necessarily the dark web), where the real shit gets done. Lately, I feel like I have lost that faith in… pretty much all of it.

Over the years, the struggle hasn’t just been about The Web. As software consumes more and more of our lives, there is no real difference between life at the keyboard and away from it. Most of us carry at least one Internet-connected computer our person most of the time; before you know it, it’s no longer going to be the Internet of Things, it’s going to be Software Defined Existence. Before I get all singularity on this, I want to call attention to the idea that advocacy for privacy and free speech, and against copyright and surveillance is rapidly becoming less about protecting people’s online lives and more about protecting “the real world” from being eaten by shitty software. I feel like I fought hard against Things That Suck on the Internet, just to have all of those things spill out into my daily physical life.

There’s a war going on outside no man is safe from

My life as a hacker, a pirate, and a crypto-anarchist has always centered on the belief that I was part of a movement that was changing things. I knew that the corporations and governments would do their best to to turn the Web into “TV with a BUY button.” But, I also knew that people like me would keep Barlow’s “Home Of Mind” alive by resisting that gentrification at every turn. There’s a war going on outside no man is safe from, and I was part of a kind of “Fifth Column” of pro-privacy, anti-copyright, and pro-free expression dissidents, rallying others to fight that war. The people like me were the tip of the spear, but there were also larger and mainstream forces at work. Mainstream forces like Silicon Valley were also doing the pushing. Sure, Google and Facebook were slowly eating our privacy for their own ends, but that was just the surface. Deep below the surface, the hackers, the pirates, and the crypto-anarchists were all keeping it real.

Lately I can’t help but feel like that is no longer the case. Silicon Valley *is* the Gentrified Web. It’s Google Safe Search. It’s the Facebook news feed.. It’s Amazon’s Choice for buying cheap plastic shit. It’s using Instagram to post pictures of the things that we love most: ourselves, at the expense of the things that matter the most: everyone else. Silicon Valley betrayed us. It was bad enough that Hollywood tricked us into working jobs that we hate to buy shit that we don’t need to impress people we don’t even like. Silicon Valley has managed to weaponize that very same cocktail of envy and ennui to the point that we are living under the tyranny that is Fear Of Missing Out. The revolution is over. The good guys lost. Nothing left to do now but take a bunch of Xanax and watch American Idol on television watch clips of other people going to Coachella on your phone.

Occupy Wall Street and the Anti-SOPA movement were the peak. It got everyone organized, but no one could get their minds around the idea of a real conversation between real people. They can’t do it because no one can really imagine anything other than submission to the same old power of the centrally planned, corporate-sponsored, government state. Big Tech is just going to keep doing the same old rent-seeking and extraction-capitalism that everyone else has done for centuries. Big Tech isn’t revolutionary. It’s evolutionary. They will keep doing it because no one has any idea what something else looks like. Revolutions have been fought, but the infection of the old tyranny persists. The broken machine will stay broken; it doesn’t matter who is sitting in the drivers’ seat.

I don’t got time for your petty thinking mind, son. I’m bigger than those…

I guess that this is the essence of The Great Big Thing(tm): that it doesn’t matter what you do, you are part of it. If you support these broken systems, you are part of it. If you fight the broken systems, you are *still* part of it. There is no “capital T” Truth, there is just the pro-machine propaganda locked in a scorched-earth conflict with the anti-machine propaganda. No one can see a way around it; everyone just seeks to stabilize it. The thing is, it won’t stabilize – because it’s broken. Broken systems do not function as designed. They malfunction.

For every good thing the hacker community does, there are these epic dramas between [fragile] egos, and the [toxic] cliques built around those egos. It’s exhausting to be part of it. Part of washing out of Facebook was also washing out of the hacker community. I just don’t have any more patience for dorks with Asperger’s syndrome failing at interacting with other dorks. It’s a lot of talking, and not a lot of hacking. There are a few people out there (most of them female, BTW) that are doing things, but for the most part it’s 10% doing something once, and then 90% holding court. I just can’t do it anymore.

The Great Big Thing(tm): Ra-Ra-Russian Facebook Edition

I have spent the last year angry at basically everyone I know for participating in this Facebook Fake News/Russian psychological warfare campaign. I washed out of Facebook because convincing my friends and relatives that they’d been conned was slowly bleeding away my will to live. I also left because of the revelations about Cambridge Analytica’s role in swaying the election through targeted marketing. Just logging in to Facebook made me complicit in the whole campaign. As time goes on, it would seem that the HyperNormalization of Facebook users has been manipulated to one extent or another to sway a few key votes. Not sure how that helps me to be honest.

I don’t yet see a causal link between Cambridge Analytica, the Guccifer2.0 email leaks and APT28 hacking the DNC, but there does seem to be a fair amount of correlation. If it wasn’t a coordinated effort, at least a few people must have known they were happening. At the very least, some decision maker was advised by someone who was aware of these operations. A fair amount of my existential angst over the past year has been the polarization of the views of my Facebook friends. I don’t know if it helps me or hurts me more to know that at least part of it was a deliberate and cynical attempt by well funded groups to make it happen. On the one hand I can feel smug and superior that I am a freethinker that didn’t get caught up in Russian PsyOp. On the other hand, feeling smug is pretty much all I’ve got, and it’s just not worth it. The way that HyperNormalization works is being for a group or against the group doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you are interacting with whatever it is. It could be Nationalism, it could be political corruption, it doesn’t matter because it needs both supporters and opponents to continue to exist. Fighting it only makes you a part of it. Also, being in exile from Facebook has forced me to confront the fact that I’m a really shitty friend.

The Russia Thing

So my friends and family aren’t idiots, they’re just pawns in someone else’s game. That’s a relief, I guess?

That still leaves the whole Mueller investigation and the steady flow of soul destroying information that comes with it. As I have stated before, I don’t care about the Trump presidency. They had Richard Nixon dead to rights and all he did was resign and be pardoned by his successor. All the pee tapes and white-hot smoking guns in the world won’t make Trump suffer a single bit. So it’s not worth even daydreaming about. Also, if you think Trump is empowering White Power and Christian Identity Nationalism, wait until President Pence takes over.

What I *do* care about the collateral damage Russia and Cambridge Analytica have caused and will continue to cause. I also care about how we as an electorate deal with the huge vulnerability social media poses to democracy. Allowing the United States to descend into fascist tyranny is a hell of a price to pay for a couple of tax cuts. I like it when the government stays out of basically everything, but replacing the government with unchecked corporate power isn’t even remotely a good idea. On the list of “Top 10 Corporations that shouldn’t be in charge of the United States” Facebook owns at least two of them.

The thing that worries me the most is the fact that 12 of the Russians indicted in the Mueller investigation are officers with Russian Military Intelligence. Meaning that this was basically a military operation. Maybe GRU is military in the way that the NSA is – national level not operational level – but that still doesn’t make me feel good. If Russia was a country full of brown people, the US would be invading it right now. Fortunately for the world, US foreign policy is pretty racist and Russia is a Caucasian ethno state, so two nuclear superpowers probably aren’t going to go to war directly.

Intelligence isn’t evidence

My involvement with the American intelligence community was minimal at its very best about 20 years ago. I am not an expert on the subject, but I do understand a couple of basic concepts of military intelligence, such as casus belli. Before you can perform a military operation, you need to have intelligence to justify its necessity.

The difference between intelligence and evidence is that intelligence is information that something either has happened, is happening, or will happen. Evidence is proof of what happened and of the damage done as a result. As we learned about the Gulf Wars, the burden of proof to justify a war is far lower than the burden of proof for a judgement in an American court of law. Also, an indictment is a far cry from a conviction, but an indictment of 12 foreign nationals probably still requires more evidence than it takes to sanction any kind of military operation. Usually spies just get traded back to their home countries under diplomatic cover.

This is why the Russia thing is so concerning. Of course the US interferes in foreign elections. Of course the US is conducting PsyOps of its own against other countries. Of course the US is conducting like 6 shadow wars in Central Asia and North Africa. All that shit is proxy for conflict with Russia. APT28 and APT29 are taking direct action against the US which is threatening the delicate balance of terror between the US and Russia. Even without full-scale invasions, proxy wars between the US and Russia are sending the world into chaos. Just look at the baffling situation in Syria.

I can’t help but fear that the pieces on the chess board are lining up into an Assassination of Archduke Ferdinand-type situation. The elements are starting to form: trade disputes, economic sanctions, complicated [even contradictory] diplomatic alliances, and clandestine military operations on foreign soil. The scary thing isn’t a new WWI, it’s the genocidal chaos that followed WWI. Oh, and that it led to WWII and even more genocide.

The Great Big Thing(tm): Weaponized Autism Edition

It’s been a little while since I have been destroyed by existential dread, but when it comes to meaningless suffering, the western world never seems to disappoint. My issue dejour is that some beta chauvinist spent too much time on 4chan and then drove a van through a crowd of people. In an age of mass shootings, murdered journalists, and white power marches, I now have to contend with radicalized misogyny as well. Thanks Obama!

Somewhere along the way, weird white dudes stopped being trolls and started being terrorists. Somehow the Autism spectrum has been weaponized.

As a weird white dude, this disturbs me more than Nazi Bullshit because I can’t help but feel that something that I was once a part of has been co-opted for truly awful purpose. The alt-right using memes to spread their bullshit was bad enough. Memes never did anything to anyone but be awesome, so why drag them into your racism? This is something much worse. It’s some kind of gateway drug to indoctrinate nerds into this weird form of Radical Fuckery.

Back story time
You will have to forgive my linking to one of those Alt-underground blogs. I am keenly aware of the tendency of crazy blogs to reference other crazy blogs. This particular post captures something that I have been thinking about for a couple of years now: the radicalization of the bowels of the Internet, my former home. Years ago, before I found a home with the hacker community, life “Away From the Keyboard” was tough for me because I felt very much like an outsider. I felt that I was connected to something not of this world. Not just to technology, but to the pro free speech, pro privacy, anti intellectual property and anti corporate counter-culture of the Internet. It was a connection that made me feel like some sort of alien in my Midwestern/corporate/suburban surroundings.

I also felt (and still feel) that the Internet is being slowly ruined by a kind of corporate-led gentrification. The Internet was once the wild west. It was full of weird, dangerous, and scary things that corporations have felt the need build firewalls around, in both the technological sense and the metaphorical. Google safe search and the Facebook news feed are the ultimate expressions of those same metaphorical firewalls. These companies are complicit in the algorithmic dismantling of the open Internet in to “TV with a buy button”. They are hijacking people’s thought processes. And, they are neutering one of the last places in the world where Free Speech is possible. In response, I was determined to “keep it weird” by trolling the “Normal People” that would wander in to deep end of the pool. I and others like me would ridicule them for being, for lack of a better word, unenlightened. Trolling people was my way of “Freaking out Squares” like Homer Simpson did in that one episode of The Simpsons:

“Copyright is based on censorship man!”

I was having a few laughs at Normal People on the Gentrified Internet who weren’t at all equipped to deal with “The Real Internet” creeping into polite society. Dabbling in a bit of satirical and ironic homophobia is not a nice thing to do, but back then, I was not nice. I was angry and territorial. As coping mechanisms go, going on the Internet and ruining someone’s day is basically like shooting Heroin. Life Away From the Keyboard was filled with Normal People which was a source of frustration and alienation. Pointing out that Normal People don’t belong on the Internet because they’d be happier somewhere else was form of stress relief for me. I mean, I always knew that everyone belonged on the Internet, I just didn’t want the normies to accidentally fuck it up for the rest of us by confusing the Internet with television.

Fake Internet points are cool and all, but have you ever made someone really mad? When I finally found a place to belong to, I mostly put trolling behind me. Mostly. I had matured. Mostly. I learned to let other people enjoy things. I learned that being yourself on the Internet is actually really brave and that ridiculing normies was just me being one of those Gen X Cool Guys that doesn’t believe in anything. I also learned that while starting arguments and saying crazy shit in public forums is fun, that same behavior is being directed without satire or sarcasm at people who are trying to make the world a better place. Also, deadpan sarcasm is great way to make your Facebook friends think that you have severe mental problems.

They don’t think it be like it is but it do
My point here is that there is a major difference between rudely reminding someone that you can Internet better than they can and what is happening today. Like so major.

You see, the awful parts of the Internet used to be a place of perpetual flux. Sure, there were people stumbling in there to be weird and angry at the world, but there were others there who were making fun of those weirdos and celebrating their failures. Whatever you tried to do, it failed. Being an EdgeLord and trying to make a shocking statement always drew mockery and criticism. Either someone found fault in your logic and you got mocked for it, or someone went harder at it than than you and they mocked your lack of conviction.

There was no recognition; there was only mockery. In that mockery, I think that growth was supposed to happen. Getting housed by people that Internet better than you forces you to think harder about what you are doing and saying. It sounds awful, but the process of being mercilessly mocked [hopefully] matured you into a calmer, more enlightened person. At least that’s what it did for me.

Today 4chan and other awful Internet spaces are basically terror training camps for weird white dudes to become… Some kind of Autistic version of Al Qaeda I guess? For a lot of these dudes, once being white and male is no longer a competitive advantage, they won’t be able to compete at all. Sure, they’re the master race or whatever, but based on the pictures I’ve seen of their Nazi marches, those bros are inferior specimens. Take away their racism and sexism and all you have left is crippling anxiety and bad skin.

Something happened in the decade between my time as a troll and now. It went off the rails somewhere. Maybe too many people like me abandoned the Real Internet and the EdgeLords took over? I parted ways with that form of Internet culture years ago, and now I feel like a significant piece of my history has been stolen from me. And, maybe I am partially responsible? I don’t really know.

What I do know is that what I once was, is not what this is. Doing it for the lulz, however mean spirited, is not the same as doing it specifically to harm others. Even if there are people still doing it for the lulz, those lulz are somehow empowering other people to do awful things. It was lulzy when I did it, but it’s not lulzy anymore. I was not an incel. I was not a Nazi. These assholes have stolen my history.

MCU Captain America is Best Captain America

Film as a medium is in a state of decline and it’s the fault of people like me. I don’t turn up to the theater except for big productions like Star Wars and The Avengers. That means that market forces have driven films into being flashy CGI messes. I accept my responsibility for that. I am not perfect, I just don’t have the time and money to turn up for films that I can more easily enjoy on my TV at home. I’m flawed.

In talking to a friend about Flawed Paladins I remarked that taking the whole Dudley Do-Right idea and adding flaws and nuance made MCU Cap one of the best characters ever. I love that MCU cap is an exemplar of the American Spirit who is now at odds with modern American society and government. He’s a manifestation of our WWII American Exceptional Narrative of the US saving the world from insensate evil. Cap is fictional, but so is a good deal of the narrative of American Exceptionalism. Cap is an all-American kid from Brooklyn, desperate to serve his country in the face of unfathomable evil. He sees people being hurt, and he steps up. Like 70 years later, he gets thawed out and he’s appalled by what he sees. He says “When I went under, the world was at war. I wake up, they say we won. They didn’t say what we lost.”

In Cap’s heart, and at the heart of the narrative, is the idea of freedom. I would define this freedom as the freedom of speech and expression, freedom of religion, freedom from fear, and freedom from need. I would posit that modern America runs on religion and fear, is perplexed by freedom of expression, and actively hates the idea of freedom from need. Obviously you need the press and courts and all that other bullshit, but the blueprint is those four basic freedoms. MCU Cap is the personification of the idea of America and his “America is great, but this shit here isn’t America” struggle makes him perfectly imperfect. He has to do what he thinks is right, even if it means working for a group like S.H.I.E.L.D. that he doesn’t trust.

MCU Cap’s internal conflict between his duty as an American hero and the shift in American society after The Avengers [a metaphor for 9/11] is absolutely brilliant. He is at odds with Tony Stark when he hacks S.H.I.E.L.D.’s computers but ends up at odds with Nick Fury by the time he sees what Fury is really up to [a possible metaphor for Snowden/Manning]. Then all that gets pushed aside by the attack on New York. By the time we see cap again in The Winter Soldier, Cap has made a compromise: he is being a hero for America by working for S.H.I.E.L.D. but he is deeply uneasy about the duplicity he keeps seeing. By the time we see him in Civil War, Cap is completely done with S.H.I.E.L.D. (and presumably with being a hero) in order to help Bucky, and they’re coming to get him.

I can’t think of a better criticism of corpofascist America than an all-powerful private army trying to take over the country, and hunting down two of America’s original war heroes in order to do it. Sure, there’s Hydra and Ultron manipulating everything, but the real story is Cap trying to reconcile loving his country, mistrusting his government, and looking out for his best friend, none of which ever truly get reconciled. I can’t think of anything more human than that.

In other posts I have bemoaned aspects of our government, our society, or our political process. I don’t know that I have ever stated that the reason that I hate all of it: the NSA, the TSA, the drones, the torture… Obviously it violates our privacy, free speech, and our freedom from fear. But I also hate all of it because that’s not what America means to me.

The Great Big Thing(tm): Reductio Ad Absurdum Editium

I did my best in a previous rant to point out the [possibly malicious] polarization of the national conversation. I tried to express my concern over the simplification of complex ideas into rhetorically convenient narratives. Unfortunately, my self-righteousness got the better of me and I don’t think I quite captured that the heart of the issue is a reduction of ideas. This essay really captures the issue for me without needing to watch 3 hours of Adam Curtis documentaries to achieve understanding. In essence, the essay likens the focus by Western Society on [predatory] exponential financial gain to the mutation of cells into a form of cancer:

Values and complexity are focused more and more on prioritizing exponential financial growth, led by for-profit corporate entities that have gained autonomy, rights, power, and nearly unregulated societal influence. The behavior of these entities are akin to cancers. Healthy cells regulate their growth and respond to their surroundings, even eliminating themselves if they wander into an organ where they don’t belong. Cancerous cells, on the other hand, optimize for unconstrained growth and spread with disregard to their function or context.

Reducing the American experiment down to unfettered corporate growth is a gross reduction of ideas. Reducing ideas essentially reduces people. Reducing humanity down to statistics is dangerous because it eliminates most, if not all, of the complexity that makes humanity so different from everything else. I did a fair amount of whining about the hypocrisy of our polarized media landscape without talking about how absurd it is to reduce people down to being cogs in a machine. I have touched on this idea in the past pondering the nature of freedom. This reduction is absurd because the idea of advancing one ideology (which is really just a subset of human struggle) at the expense of another ideology (which is itself another subset of human struggle) is basically pitting half of society against the other half, while deliberately ignoring everything that they have in common.

Rejecting absurdity means embracing irreconcilable ideas

Much like the geardo cargo cult that worships gun culture, there is another cargo cult that worships technology. Much like the cult of the gun that has no real concept of military doctrine, the cult of code has no real concept of software engineering. Just like guns are falsely ascribed the power to help realize white-male-power fantasies, math is also falsely ascribed the power to achieve techno-Utopian fantasies. I understand how seductive both kinds of fantasies can be. The cult of the gun seeks to take control over the violent chaos that threatens to destroy so much. The cult of code wants to cede control to powerful algorithms that promise logic and objectivity and free us from the responsibility of making hard choices. The gun can’t protect you from an uncaring universe, and algorithms just crystallize the biases of their creators.

The desire to take control from those we perceive to be tyrants and to give control over to systems we believe to be objective is a paradox. Like the idea of a benevolent dictator or a truly free market, the perfect system is a great idea that always fails when implemented. Any complex system, be it an economy or a social network, was engineered by people to be used by other people. Engineers are as flawed and fallible as anyone else ergo the systems they build will also be flawed. End users aren’t the sheep that engineers wish that they were. Any imperfect thing (i.e. all things) will eventually be misused by someone with an understanding of its flaws. This isn’t hacker self-righteousness, just look at all of the government programs that get defrauded or the tax increases that billionaires find ways of avoiding. These are flawed systems designed by people that other people have chosen to capitalize on. It doesn’t matter how much time, effort, and money you put into developing a system, someone will invest more in order to exploit it.

The problem with both cults is that neither the gun nor the algorithm is a substitute for humanity, nor is either a hedge against tyranny. In fact, with frightening frequency, both tools harm humanity and encourage tyranny. Guns empower tyrants and are mostly brought to bear against the innocent. Computers empower the reduction of ideas down to data sets, where they confine us to platforms run by big corporations, another form of tyranny. The AK-47 was supposed to be a Communist gift to liberate oppressed peoples, but they mostly got used by death squads. Facebook was supposed to help us to connect with each other, but it mostly pits us against each other while shady marketers peddle divisive media for money and political influence.

Like most of my pseudo-intellectual deep thoughts, the thought began with watching an Adam Curtis documentary but is became fully actualized by watching Rick and Morty. The Adam Curtis idea, that there is a “positive liberty” which is born out of violent struggle, and a “negative liberty” which is born out of apathy. In Rick and Morty, Rick is the epitome of both the gun and the code cults. He has all the weaponry and all the technology, yet most of what he uses it for is to allow himself to get drunk and watch TV. He literally sells a gun to an assassin so he has enough money to spend the day at an arcade. He gets involved with all manner of epic adventures, mostly so he can be an asshole to everyone close to him. He is forever ridiculing the beliefs of others, yet he believes in nothing.

This is probably where I should look to the Asian philosophies I studied as part of my martial arts training should come into play, but Confucianist parables and Taoist paradoxes just aren’t the right medicine for this species existential dread. I’m pretty fucking far from being an Uncarved Stone and trusting the process. If anything, I am an *over* carved stone, and the process is light years away from trustworthy.

The Great Big Thing(tm): Nazi Bullshit Edition

I have been unable to write for a while now, and so I figured I would just write about not being able to write. That ended up being this long rambling screed about my frustration with my friends and family over their obtusely two-dimensional socio-political views. It came across really angsty and disjointed. Then all this Nazi bullshit happened and I just kind of retreated again.

Getting into the Nazi thing is kind of a waste of my time. I’ve dealt with Nazis in one form or another for most of my early adult life. I had a few clashes with Nazi skins when I was a teenage punk, and when I went into the military I clashed with a few more in the US and in Germany. Beefing with German skins was weird. What I didn’t realize, was how prevalent these hard right-wing white power types were in the Ohio National Guard. I had a squad mate that was an ex-skin and he and a few like him were treating their Guard service as free training for their race war. They were conservative gun nuts prepping for a “Shit Hitting The Fan” scenario. This was in the late 90’s. I know these dudes didn’t go anywhere, they just got pushed into silence by polite society, and the specter of a global Islamic Jihad deflected the world’s attention from them. I figured that at some point those dudes would get their lives together, but not only did they not, I guess they all had kids?

I spent a lot of time with these dudes; I got to know them. One guy hated blacks because he was divorced and his wife was dating black dudes. Another was raised to be that way by his father who was a blue collar guy who got laid off in some recession and he blamed immigrants. All of it just sounded like fear and weakness to me. These guys hate people of color because people of color have the power to make them feel inferior. Good job Master Race! You’re doing a great job! It’s no different than those “nice guys” that hate women because women have the power to make them feel lonely and pathetic. It’s ironic when you think about it, white supremacy threatens the lives of so many, yet all it does is protect the egos of a few. Also, these dudes go on and on about liberty, but they are the worst sort of authoritarian apologists.

Maybe I am lucky to have more than one identity, or I’m just lucky that my identity isn’t threatened by women or minorities. Being a geek is a pretty white identity, but it’s not like John Boyega, Gal Gadot, or Rochelle are going to take that away from me. Glenn from The Walking Dead can kill all the zombies and bed all the white women he wants, it doesn’t affect me in any way. The same goes for female Ghostbusters, Daisy Ridley or Imperator Furiosa.

One thing that this new Nazi bullshit did was cause more debate about the First Amendment. The Intercept was nice enough to illustrate my point about how controlling hate speech ends up suppressing progressives, which confirms my bias on these things and helps me feel a little vindicated.

The other thing about Nazi bullshit that pisses me off is that it takes so much Nazi related self-aware/ironic humor off the table. You can’t deliberately invoke Godwin’s Law anymore. You can’t dismiss Xbros as “Filthy Console Peasants”. I have to work so much harder to be simultaneously pretentious and fake-edgy. It’s BULLSHIT.

What disturbs me the most about all this Nazi bullshit isn’t the presence of White Power. You can’t police thought, so you can’t eliminate hate. It’s the lack of conscience on display from leaders of all kinds. Of course the President had nothing to say, those Fashy creeps put him into office, but what about basically everyone else? A bunch of corporations took a stand, and that is probably the worst possible result. They’re Nazis For Fuck’s Sake. They are literally the worst human beings there are. The USA fought a war against them. They’re the definition of an easy target. There will never be any collateral damage when you take a swing at them. They are literally Hitler, literally. When the organizations whose General Counsel advises them against any course of action, any course of action that a corporation ends up taking is the absolute least that could be done. Where in the fuck is everyone else?

My lamentations about corporate power also seem to have been vindicated a little, again thanks to The Intercept. I get that we as a country have lost faith in the political process, but corporate oligarchy is not the answer. Let’s not forget that no one served any time for crashing the economy in 2008. Let’s not forget that everyone looked the other way in the interest of keeping “the system” stable. What else are we going to look the other way on? Using a private army to violate the civil liberties of a group of indigenous people? Those people aren’t white, BTW. Just thought somebody should know that.

UPDATE: This:

There is a Great Big Thing that I can’t write about.

I write because it helps me cope. I haven’t been able to write lately because my mind is unfocused by a bunch of things. What I am seeing around me is a kind of existential apocalypse. Part of it is the world around me, part of it is the realization that I live in a part of the world where I just don’t belong.

Writing is a way to let some of that negative energy out in a (mostly) harmless way. I have suffered some physical injuries in the past year, so my martial arts training weight lifting has been sidelined for quite a while, leaving me with video games, stress eating, and writing as my outlets. Lately writing has been hard, so I pretty much just play Skyrim and Stardew Valley.

The Great Big Thing is a kind of toxic complexity that has led to an existential threat at a global scale. I sense that our American capitalist system is slowly collapsing and the problem is so complex that not only can nobody see it, nobody can even face it. This reflexive/involuntary ignorance has left me with a kind of low grade rage at my friends and family, and a kind of generalized panic.

I have liberal friends who don’t understand nationalism or how white supremacists operate. I have conservative friends that don’t understand the shock doctrine or military doctorine. Neither faction seems to know the difference between fiscal policy and monetary policy, or what tax rates and margins are. I can’t help but feel like everyone is obtusely seeing this oversimplified version of the world. The only friend I have that doesn’t want to just bitch about the presidential election (from a year ago) is a batshit crazy UFO conspiracy theorist. What does that say about me?

The Make Believe World

Nationalism is a logical consequence to globalization. It is the result of the failure of politics to control corporate power, or possibly the corruption of politics via money by corporate interests. It’s what happens when people lose faith in institutions and turn to corporations. Sure there is a racist/anti-immigration component to nationalism, but there is an equal, or possibly greater component that is economic. What you end up with is a population that is mad at the globe, wants to retreat inward. This results in a kind of “foxhole mentality” where you feel that you and your way of life is under attack and anyone outside of your world-view is the enemy. I mean, your way of life is under attack. It’s just being attacked by unchecked corporate greed, not by poor people and brown-skinned immigrants.

Speaking of race and nationalism, modern white supremacists *want* to be judged and attacked for their beliefs, *especially* by other whites, because it plays into their whole “white genocide” narrative. The audience for these theatrics isn’t minorities, it’s disenfranchised/underachieving white dudes. It’s the exact same tactic employed by ISIS and the Westboro Baptist Church. ISIS wants the west to crack down on moderate Muslims because it empowers their “the west wants to destroy all of Islam” rhetoric that helps them recruit martyrs. Westboro is a family of lawyers posing as radicals. The Phelps family wants people to assault them at their protests so that they can file lawsuits and collect settlements. Martyrdom is the endgame, and if you engage them, they win. They’re gonna get mileage off it and there’s noting you can do about it. So you have to get even more.

What’s worse is that my liberal friends are calling for bans on this kind of speech. Hate speech in all forms is bullshit, but that’s not the point. The point is that hate speech is a kind of canary in the coal mine. It’s the way that you prove to the world that you are willing to stand up for all other (i.e. the important) forms of free speech. If you call for a ban on hate speech, how do you plan on enforcing it? The federal government?

How will you keep that ban from silencing the people who need to speak the most? Bans by government at any level *WILL* be used against activists and protesters. Any move a government body makes against the Alt-Right *WILL* harm Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock, Occupy, and every other group that liberals think are cool. I have been called a “free speech apologist” by a liberal friend for pointing this out. It reminds me of Daffy Duck sticking a shotgun into a hole and having the barrel poke him in the ass. Sure, it’s counter intuitive, but that’s how it always works: the government always punishes vulnerable people, especially when it tries to protect them.

On the Conservative side, my friends don’t seem to understand the pernicious nature of authoritarianism. The shock doctrine is where authoritarian governments and leaders use crises to justify the maneuvers they make to restrict the rights of the people they govern. The neocons did this during the Bush administration after 9/11. That’s not a conspiracy, the PATRIOT act was a direct result. The intelligence apparat did the same thing during the Obama administration in response to various insurgencies in the Middle East following the Arab Spring. Some tragedy happens and new laws suddenly appear to take away even more freedoms.

Most liberals were quick to criticize George W. Bush for letting the intelligence community build its mass surveillance apparatus, but they were curiously silent about Obama letting the same intel community expand it and then equip it with murder drones. It’s not about the politics, it’s about the intel community and the multi-billion dollar industry that supports it forming a kind of ‘deep state’ (I hate using that term) that’s immune to the political process. The country swings from red to blue and back to red, but the Intel Community Apparatchiks gain more power with each cycle. Oh, and the American people are silently complicit. As Trump clashes with the Intel Apparat, liberals support the Apparat, as if they have forgotten about all the kidnapping and torture that they did in the past. At this point, throwing shade at any president means that 50% of the time, I’m the bad guy every time.

Speaking of governmental overreach, my conservative friends are just as delusional as my liberal friends. A few of them seem to think that this is still 1776 and that they can fight *whomever* on equal footing. This is a willful disregard of modern military doctrine. A force multiplier is a technology or tactic that improves the combat effectiveness of a weapon, a soldier, or military unit. Satellite communications, land navigation, advanced optics, and close air support are examples of force multipliers. It’s the tactical support that makes special operations so special, not beards and MOLLE gear. Don’t get me wrong, those operators are total badasses, but behind each badass on the ground there are hundreds of people, millions of dollars in communications equipment, and thousands of man hours of intelligence gathering. You may be dead eye dick with an AR-15, but you won’t even scratch the paint on a Specter or a Warthog. Nuff said.

Because of this worship/obsession with special operations, a kind of cargo cult has formed around guns and gun culture as a result; a certain group of people think that carrying military-style equipment and weapons makes them one of these heroic badass operators fending off a mythical Golden Horde. AR-15’s, beards and vests don’t make you a badass, years of training and access to orbital technology does.

I have written elsewhere about geardos: non-military people, usually right wingers of some kind, who are obessed with military equipment. I can admit to making use of the modularity of MOLLE gear for carrying electronic equipment, so maybe I am more sensitive to this phenomenon than others. Also, I was in the Army in the 90’s and MOLLE gear is way more useful than the shitty Vietnam-era ALICE gear that I had to use. There are three basic types of geardos: 1) the 2nd amendment gun nut types, 2) doomsday preppers/survivalists, and 3) people who fantasize about the zombie apocalypse. There is a weird connection between all 3 types; in one form or another they all share this kind of male power fantasy about the proverbial shit hitting the fan. The point here is that once you remove the racist/sexist/right-wing fantasy, what remains is still fantasy.

So when some NRA gun-nut talks about using his god-given right to assault rifles to “Don’t Tread On Me” against tyranny, don’t believe it for a second. The 2nd Amendment is real, and written into the constitution, so it’s not going anywhere. That doesn’t make it a hedge against tyranny. At all. If the culture wars blossom into a full blown civil war, the military will be the deciding factor, not the geardos. Whichever side the military backs will be the winning side in *very* short order. You could put the entire state of Kentucky, the National Guard included, up against the First Infantry Division, and the smart money would be on the Big Red One. The NRA knows this, which is why their thinly veiled threats are directed specifically at journalists and not at the left in general. Campaign contributions are cool and all, but they’re nothing compared to private military company money.

My side, your side, their side, we don’t know.

What I see around me is that the machinery of the western world is running amok. It’s a vast and complicated system that no one is in control of. I see a militarist/imperialist/plutocratic caste that is doing steadily crazier and crazier shit to keep the system stable, but nothing else. Meanwhile, everyone I know is arguing over what color we should have painted the machines last year. They are -Every. Single. One.- oblivious to the fact that the system went off the rails something like 20 years ago.

If all they did was argue about machine painting, that might be understandable, but that is not the case. They are so dug so deep into their all-we-have-to-do-is-paint-the-machines factions that they don’t see that they have basically switched places with each other. The memes and bumper stickers that rail against Trump are basically the same ones that railed against Obama. “Obama is a Muslim” has been replaced with “Trump is a Nazi”. One side looked stupid when they did it, and now the other side looks equally stupid and neither of the realizes it. Again, it’s not about the politics, it’s about the foxhole mentality. Neither side will come out of their holes to listen to anything. Which was probably the plan all along.

Both sides use the same hateful condescending language. Liberals are the new bible thumpers. Saving the world from institutional bigotry is great, but the tools that the left uses are the same right-wing fundie bullshit: judgement, ridicule, and self-righteousness.

If you are sick of conservatives clutching their pearls in judgement of your secular hedonistic lifestyle, you don’t respond by clutching your own pearls in judgement of their fundamentalism. When my liberal friends attempt to deploy guilt and shame to enforce their world view, I just want to scream “WHAT ARE YOU A FUCKING CATHOLIC?”

What it’s like listening to all of this

I can’t help but feel like Arthur Dent in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy”. I feel like the last sane person in a world that has gone mad.

“It comes from a very ancient democracy, you see…”
“You mean, it comes from a world of lizards?”
“No,” said Ford, who by this time was a little more rational and coherent than he had been, having finally had the coffee forced down him, “nothing so simple. Nothing anything like so straightforward. On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people.”
“Odd,” said Arthur, “I thought you said it was a democracy.”
“I did,” said Ford. “It is.”
“So,” said Arthur, hoping he wasn’t sounding ridiculously obtuse, “why don’t people get rid of the lizards?”
“It honestly doesn’t occur to them,” said Ford. “They’ve all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they’ve voted in more or less approximates to the government they want.”
“You mean they actually vote for the lizards?”
“Oh yes,” said Ford with a shrug, “of course.”
“But,” said Arthur, going for the big one again, “why?”
“Because if they didn’t vote for a lizard,” said Ford, “the wrong lizard might get in. Got any gin?”
“What?”
“I said,” said Ford, with an increasing air of urgency creeping into his voice, “have you got any gin?”
“I’ll look. Tell me about the lizards.”
Ford shrugged again.
“Some people say that the lizards are the best thing that ever happenned to them,” he said. “They’re completely wrong of course, completely and utterly wrong, but someone’s got to say it.”
“But that’s terrible,” said Arthur.
“Listen, bud,” said Ford, “if I had one Altairian dollar for every time I heard one bit of the Universe look at another bit of the Universe and say ‘That’s terrible’ I wouldn’t be sitting here like a lemon looking for a gin.”

It’s Not the Economy, stupid.

The thing that bugs me the most is that both sides seem to be arguing petty cultural bullshit while corporations seize power hand over fist. Liberals and conservatives call for economic reforms without having a concept of basic economic principles. I understand why. It’s too complicated.

The Bush administration let the banks crash the economy; the Obama administration bailed them out; no one went to jail for it. The war on drugs is a war on poor people and people of color; prison is a multi-billion dollar private industry, as is war. There’s all the money in the world for prison and war, yet education and healthcare costs are skyrocketing. This is reality, but everyone wants to bitch about the economy. World going one way, people another.

For example, the difference between revenue and income. Revenue is simply a measure of the money that comes to you, income is a measure of what’s yours to keep. Most people think about their personal income with regard to income taxes, but to the government, income is a different animal. For corporations, income is a much bigger deal.

The issue I see a lot of people discussing is raising and lowering taxes with no real understanding of the difference between rates and margins. The tax rate is the amount that you are supposed to pay, the margin is the amount of your income and holdings that you actually hand over to the government. You can vote all you want to increase the rate, and if by some miracle you succeed it won’t make a single bit of difference because corporations don’t cheat on their tax rates, they cheat on their tax margins. You could double the tax rates on the rich and you might see a slight increase in tax *revenue*, but the government would likely end up with less tax *income*. But by all means, keep fighting about the rates.

I guess this is where the idea of a flat tax comes into play. This is where everyone pays the exact same rate regardless of their income, and there are absolutely no deductions. The actual rate could lower, say to 10% (like capital gains), and if you close all of the loopholes for bonuses, losses (real or fictitious), and the like, the government’s tax income could increase significantly. It would probably put an end to all of those tax haven schemes that are said to be hiding several trillion dollars (See the Mark Blythe video above).

The same thing is true for fiscal policy and monetary policy. Fiscal policy has to do with how the government spends money. Monetary policy is how the fed controls the money supply through interest rates. The two really don’t have much to do with one another, other than they sort of come into play at similar times. Low interest rates are supposed to spur borrowing, but they also discourage saving. Interest rates have gone about as low as they can, so not much else can be done by the fed to stimulate the economy. It’s up to the government to do the rest, but it can’t because Wall Street.

This is where all the complexity comes into play. I have ranted about this before, so I will do what I can to not duplicate the issue here. I am frustrated by the discussions that I see because the left and the right are arguing based on two narratives that don’t reflect reality.

Basically, engineering an economy always has unforeseen consequences. Not engineering an economy always has predictable consequences. The New Deal was probably the most ambitious attempt at engineering an economy, followed by the Clinton and Blair administrations’ campaigns to deregulate the economy in the late 90’s. Both maneuvers are what put us in the state that we are in now. The system gets modified and there are consequences.

Engineering an economy is impossible to get completely right, but that’s not the point. The point is that not engineering an economy is incredibly easy to get completely wrong. Neither narrative (pro-economic-engineering or anti-economic-engineering) captures the complexities of a national or global economy. Economies are made up of individuals. These individuals may or may not act rationally, and they may or may not act in their own self interest. That Hobbesian/Randian Zero Sum Game Theory is largely bullshit. Trying to create stability within a large and complex system that’s based on non-rational and illogical human behavior is foolish and will ultimately lead to nonpolitical forces seizing power. Non-political forces do not have to answer to The People, which is undermining The People’s liberty and will continue to undermine the social contract.

This is what I mean by the machinery of The West running amok. The machine isn’t doing what anyone wants, and no one can make it behave. The machine is too complex and the consequences of modifying it are too unpredictable. No one can change the system because no one can predict what the outcome of a change will be. So we just give up. We know that the best outcome is that it remains stable, so we argue over what color to paint the housing. This is the story of pretty much all of western civilization. The reality of the problem is so complex, so ugly, and requires so much consensus that there isn’t any solution. It’s bullshit, we know it, and we don’t do anything because we can’t imagine doing anything else.

When someone tells you a story that you believe so thoroughly that you can’t see reality, that’s the definition of a con. This is where I should get on my soapbox about a movement based on hacker ideals and disruptive technologies to give the power back to the people, but I just don’t have it in me. Also, such a cultural revolution would probably end like every other cultural revolution: in Soviet or Chinese style totalitarianism. Cheery thought, huh?

I hate separating hackers based on morality.

I have given a few talks recently to non-hacker audiences. In so doing, I learned that even at its most basic level, the idea of what hacking is, is kind of lost on “normal people.” The “Wanna Cry” malware couldn’t have better illustrated the things I was trying to teach.

It’s not that normies aren’t capable of understanding, it’s that they have been given the wrong information  by the government, the media, and popular culture for years. There is this fairly lame idea of hackers following  this sort of monochromatic gradient matching that of the old-west: the good guys wear white hats, the bad guys wear black hats, and there is a spectrum of moralities in between. There are legitimate ethics that guide hackers, they just aren’t the kinds that you hear about in movies and on TV:

  1. The Sharing Imperative – Hacking is a gift economy. You get tools, knowledge and code for free, so you have to share what you have learned to keep growing the pool.
  2. The Hands-On Imperative – Just like “real” science, you have to learn by doing. Take things apart, break them even, and learn how they work. Use that knowledge to create interesting things.
  3. The Community Imperative – Communities (geographic, philosophical, etc.) are how it gets done. Crews, clubs, chat rooms, hackerspaces, conferences, email lists, are all places for n00bs to ask questions and get flamed, and for l33ts to hold court.

Monochromatic Morality
The typical whitehat is a security researcher, penetration tester, or security consultant that only hacks the computers and networks that they have permission to hack. This can either be a lab environment built for research, a client who has retained security services, or an employer who has granted express permission. Whitehats then disclose their findings. This disclosure may be for the benefit of a client or an employer, or it may be to benefit the public. The key difference is that the whitehat first seeks permission and then shares their discovery for the benefit of others.

The typical blackhat is a generally considered to be a criminal. They hack systems that do not belong to them and then do not disclose their findings. The exploits that they develop are then hoarded and stockpiled for their benefit alone. The key difference is that blackhats do not seek permission, they do not disclose their findings, and they hack for the benefit of themselves.

The gray areas have to do with the degree to which a hacker has permission, discloses their findings, and how they profit from their activities. Whitehats are supposed to have “real” jobs and share everything, blackhats supposedly don’t have jobs and therefore hack for money. A typical grayhat might hack systems that don’t belong to them but then anonymously share their findings, or they might develop their exploits in a lab, but then sell those exploits rather than disclosing them.

In my professional life, I routinely employ hacking tools for the benefit of my employer, whether it’s scanning networks to find and fix problems, or cracking passwords to help users who have lost access to their computers. In previous jobs, I have exfiltrated research data from one network to another at the request of the data’s owner. While I don’t always have my employer’s explicit permission to do what I do, they hired me to fix problems for their users, so I do what it takes. The things that I learn, I then share and teach to others, whether that’s talks at conferences or Cinci2600 meetings, or posts on this blog. I have no idea where that falls in the white/gray spectrum.

Chromatic Pragmatism
red_vs_blueInstead of black and white, I prefer to look at hacking from a red vs. blue perspective. Regardless of your moral compass (or that of your employer), you are either on the offensive end which is the red team or the defensive end, which is blue team.

Teams are better terms to think in because hacking is a social activity. You may or may not be physically alone, but you are always learning from others. You read docs and code, you try stuff, you get stuck, you look up answers and ultimately ask someone for help. The idea of hackers as introverted smart kids living in their mom’s basements isn’t nearly as accurate as TV would have you believe.

Regardless of the reason why you are hacking a computer or a network, you are either the attacker or the defender. You are either probing defenses looking for  a way in, or you are hardening defenses to keep others out. You can further divide these activities into application vs. network security, but at that point the discussion is more about tools.

A great example of this is the people that run botnets. Once a bot-herder gets control of a computer (bad), they will then patch that computer (good) so that some other bot-herder doesn’t snatch it away from them (???).

Thinking about hacking in terms of offense and defense takes away all of the politics, business, and patriotism of your red and blue teams. If you are a red teamer, backed by your country’s military, you might be doing black hat stuff like seizing control of things that don’t belong to you for a “good” cause. You might be a blue teamer working for organized crime syndicate, doing white hat stuff like analyzing malware for “bad” people. You might be a whistle-blower or a journalist, exfiltrating stolen data to expose bad acts by a government.

Wanna Cry: with the good comes the bad, with the bad comes the good
The Wanna Cry debacle is interesting because of its timing, its origin, its disclosure, and its impact.

Its timing is interesting because nation-state political hacking is like half of all discussions when it comes to the Presidential election. Turns out that the USA hacks as much or more shit than Russia does.

Its origin is interesting because the tools in the leaked sample appear to come from the NSA. The leak comes from a group known as “Shadow Brokers.” They said they would auction the rest for a large sum of money. The world got a head start on an inevitable malware outbreak thanks to some bad guys doing a good thing by releasing something that they discovered. Something that the US Government had been hoarding to use against its enemies.

The disclosure is interesting because the first release is a free sample to prove the quality of the goods they intend to auction. This is the Golden Key problem in a nutshell: a tool, used by the good guys, falls into the hands of the bad guys, and chaos ensues.

The zero-day exploit exposed by the leaked tools was then used to implement a large scale ransomware attack that severely affected systems in Europe and the UK. A researcher was able to locate a call in the ransomware to deactivate the malware, which stopped the attack dead in its tracks. There are lots of theories about this strange turn of events, but my personal theory is that the ransomware campaign was a warning shot. Possibly to prove out a concept, possibly to urge everyone to patch against the vulnerability before a proper villain did some real damage with it.

The idea that NSA tools were compromised and disclosed by a criminal organization, turns the whole black hat/white hat thing on its head. The NSA was hoarding exploits and not disclosing them, which is total black hat move. Shadow Brokers exposed the tools, prompting a widespread campaign to fix a number of vulnerabilities, which is a total white hat move. So you have a government agency, a “good guy”, doing black hat things, and a criminal organization, a “bad guy”, doing white hat things.

If you want to talk about the specifics of the hack, the NSA’s blue team didn’t do its job, and the Shadow Brokers’ red team ate the NSA’s lunch. The blue team’s principle was a server where attacks were either launched or controlled. This server was the red team’s target. It’s a pretty epic win for the red team because the NSA is a very advanced hacking group, possibly the best in the world.

The Nature of Freedom

A few cultural events have caused me to think a lot about freedom lately. Of course our new Presidential administration has had an effect, but also some films, television programs, and documentaries. Also, I have been assisting my local political community and the results are pretty depressing.

One film that I saw was “Arrival“. It is based on a short story called “The Story Of Your Life” which goes into more philosophical detail than the film, and centers on the idea of free will. The aliens in the film can see time in a planar rather than linear fashion. Because of that, they have no concept of free will. Knowing what is coming leaves them with no choice but to play their parts to contribute to the known outcome. Speaking to others isn’t so much an exchange of ideas as it is a declaration or codification of events, like announcing a winner, or pronouncing someone dead. Reading the story left me feeling that I had broken my brain in some fundamental way.

Not long after that, I started watching “Westworld“. The hosts in West World are driven by code which is interpreted by their central processing units. Because they store memories digitally, they don’t remember things, and instead reload (relive) them. As a mercy to the hosts, their memories are erased on a regular basis. Something within the code that governs the hosts causes them to start remembering and all hell breaks loose. Again this idea, while fictional, made me think about the nature of freedom.

The idea of reality as a lived experience, the cognitive lens that we see the world through, is based on recollection of previous experiences. Our human memories are not perfect; we cannot retrieve bit-for-bit copies of stored data the way that a computer can. We cannot go back and relive an experience the way that a host from Westworld can. As we experience something, it is colored by a complex mix of emotions and bias. These imperfect and colorized recollections then shape how we experience new things. These new experiences, perceived through our flawed cognition, are then stored using that same flawed mechanism, making it even more flawed. As humans age and grow, their cognition becomes a kind of degenerative corruption of observation. Your lived experience might actually just be shitty encoding.

As I watched these works of fiction, I have also begun to listen to intellectuals dissect the ideas of freedom. I watched a series of documentary films by Adam Curtis. The idea of this series, is that efforts have been made to reduce the idea of humanity into self-serving automata. This numeric representation of humans relies on a kind of rational strategy that guides us. The problem with this simplified view of course is that it ignores the shitty encoding that guides human decision making.

The documentary series points out the use of Zero Sum Game Theory in modern political, economic, and even biological research. This cynical approach led to the dissolution of the idea of human individuality and the rise of popular psychology which uses drugs to manage human behavior. Oversimplification of human behavior leads to a kind of segregation based on small sets of variables, rather than meritocracy. The result is the corporate-run caste system that we have today. More importantly there are two varieties of freedom: one of struggle and coercion based on violent radicalism, and one of meaningless consumerism. Meaningless consumerism is how The West operates without violent revolution; people are free to do whatever they want, so long as all they want to do is watch TV and buy things.

This my issue with the western idea of freedom. It is a comfortable existence; it’s largely devoid of bloodshed, but it is also largely devoid of meaning. Buying new things – says the guy with 4 laptops – isn’t making yourself any happier. Watching TV – says the guy who came to this conclusion by watching movies and TV – doesn’t help you to improve yourself. Being a radical freedom fighter isn’t the alternative, and it’s not like you can bring down corporatism in a bloodless and market-friendly manner. What you can do, however, is diversify. Instead of using violence to coerce others into your idea of freedom, I think that you can build communities around ideas other than meaningless conformity and draconian order. Organizing into communities is the start, but you have to go much further.

Paradoxically (or perhaps ironically), I criticize the tendency for governments and corporations to reduce humanity into numerical figures, yet I cannot help but to see political and economic systems as complex networks. I am an avid proponent of peer-to-peer networking, of decentralization, and the mistrust of authority. In a peer-to-peer network, there are no clients and servers, there are only nodes. The power of the Internet is not that it connects nodes, but that it connects networks of nodes. We, as individuals, have to organize ourselves into networks that pursue and produce meaningful things. Individuality is important, but agency may actually be more important. Having freedoms that you do not make use of is pretty much the same as not having freedoms to begin with. If you are a corporate-run fascist state, it’s probably a better for you if your subjects ignore their freedoms. Convincing them to do that might be part of your game plan.

This is the idea that I am moving around in my mind. What is freedom? Do we in The West actually have it? Did we lose it or did we give it away? The thought process is similar to the Orwell vs. Huxley debate, but I think it goes further because it should take into account human tendencies. Huxley kind of does with his societal focus on people being distracted from the importance of the self, but Orwell does not because he is more focused on the politics of violence and fear. My fear is that both Huxley and Orwell are right. That we are being duped into willingly ignoring essential liberties so that a powerful and violent elite can manipulate everything to their benefit. Honestly, I prefer pondering the nature of cognition, the nature of free will, and the nature of humanity because the idea of “Huxleying your way into full Orwell” scares me to death.

The problem with everything is central control

I have been reading postmortems on the election, and it basically came down to a failure of media and political elites to get a read on the voting public. Basically, a small number of very powerful intellectuals operated in a kind of silo of information.

All the stuff I have read and watched about the 2008 financial meltdown comes down to a failure of large banks. A small number of very powerful banks, operated in a kind of silo of finance.

This country is a mess because of centralized control and centralized culture. It’s a mess because of intellectual laziness and emotional cowardice. It’s a mess because we rely on crumbling institutions to help us.

Centralizing seems natural and logical. There is an idea in economics called the economy of scale. Basically, a big operation (a firm, a factory, a project) has better purchasing power and is able to spread fixed costs over large numbers of units. In network topology, the Star Model is the simplest to manage, putting all the resources at the center. I tend to think about economics and computer networks as kind of similar.

One of the primary criticisms of the Star Network is the single point of failure. If the center of the network has any sort of problem, the whole network suffers. This is also a problem with economies of scale. A lot of electronic component manufacturing is centralized in Taiwan, in 1999 an earthquake caused a worldwide shortage of computer memory. It seems that any time there is bad weather in New York City, flights are delayed across all of North America. In 2008, trouble with undersea fiber cables caused widespread Internet connectivity problems throughout Asia. A lack of biodiversity in potato crops contributed to the Irish Potato Famine. Centralized control is prone to failure.

This isn’t just a business or a technology problem. It can also be a cultural problem. Centralizing stores of information leads to gatekeeping, where a point of distribution controls the access and dissemination of information. This may be for financial gain, in the case of television and cinema, or it may be for political gain, in the case of the White house press corps. Media outlets repeating what the white house said, and the white house using media reports to support its assertions is how the us ended up invading Iraq under false pretenses.

The diametric opposite of the Star Network is the Mesh network, specifically the Peer-To-Peer network. These models eschew ideas of economy and control in favor of resilience and scalability. Economy of scale eliminates redundancies because they are expensive. Peer-to-peer embraces redundancies because they are resilient.

Embracing peer-to-peer from a cultural standpoint means embracing individuality and diversity. Not just in a left-wing identity politics sort of way, but in a Victorian class struggle kind of way. It means eschewing the gatekeeper-esque ideas of mono-culture in favor of cultural and social diversity. Peer-to-peer culture is messy. It’s full of conflicts and rehashed arguments. It’s not a “safe space” where people of similar mindsets never encounter dissent. It’s a constant barrage of respectful and learning argument.

The cultural division in this country is a failure of our core values. It’s a failure of the right’s anti-intellectualism, and it’s a failure of the left’s elitism. It’s faith by many in crumbling institutions that are out of touch. It’s a failure of corporate media that forces us to turn to our social networks for news that discourages discussion and only seeks to confirm our individual biases.

I’ll be writing more about this opinion (and make no mistake, it’s just an opinion) in future posts. Hopefully it will foster some of the discussion that I am seeking.