Thursday, July 29, 2010
Lots of people talk about how much the internet has changed the way we work, and the way we live, and how we communicate with each other. Though it is a fundamental truth, it has become cliché, by virtue of repetition. Mostly, over the last twenty years or so, for those of us in the United States, in the heart of the empire, we go about our lives, and things are the same as they were before.
Here in the U.S., we get in our cars and drive to work. We talk to people on the phone. It's a smaller, portable, more convenient phone, that we carry in our pocket, but it's still a phone, and at it's most basic level, it's not really obviously different. We use computers, every day, and that's different for some, but twenty years ago many of us used computers at work, even if they were more cumbersome, and didn't do as much. Email has been around for a while, and hasn't changed too much over that time.
A new crime, Identity Theft, has appeared, that never was heard of or discussed before. A music sharing site for geeks, Napster, and now LimeWire, nearly disemboweled the recording industry. Pirate Bay has challenged the very concept of intellectual property. Video has evolved from home movies and TV to an almost unrecognizable state of phone & pocket cameras, YouTube, iTunes downloads, and TiVo and DVR. An apparent fad, Twitter, empowered a near revolution in Iran, saved lives in Haiti, and despite government suppression, is used routinely by activists during large protests. People use their phones to do things they never could before, way beyond text messages and instant shared photographs. Social media like Facebook are becoming more and more popular, and are reconnecting old friends and lost family members at an astonishing rate. Also, social media allows professionals, activists, and others to communicate in a new complex way that's hard to explain to those that don't use it. The sum of human knowledge is available at our fingertips. Virtual Worlds and games such as Second Life and World Of WarCraft are immensely popular, where people can play games or interact socially (or professionally) with other people from all over the world, in an immersive 3D environment. Virtual Worlds aren't just for play, activists are already using them to connect with each other.
Now there's this WikiLeaks thing.
Xeni Jordan of BoingBoing.net was on the Rachel Maddow show the other night, and was interviewed by Chris Hayes.
I think it's bigger than this war. I think it's the beginning of waking up, and realizing what kind of power we each have in this new reality. The world changing event is the fact that nobody could stop it. The news really, is that WikiLeaks can't be touched. Even if the servers are seized, all the personnel are arrested, and the information deleted, it's too late. To use another cliché, the genie is out of the bottle. Outrage over attempts to shut WikiLeaks down will cause a dozen more sites like it to spring up.
Jay Rosen, of NYU, sums it up: "In media history up to now, the press is free to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the laws of a given nation protect it. But Wikileaks is able to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the logic of the Internet permits it. This is new."
All of these developments together, setting aside the individual organizations: P2P sharing; torrent downloads; tweeting (as opposed to Twitter itself); portable media devices and instant text, photo and video publishing; social media; public supported whistle-blowing; and online virtual worlds, are leading us into the future.
Nobody knew what would happen, in the late eighteen-hundreds, when the rise in factories started to change the way society worked. The history of the Industrial Revolution was complex, and had as much suffering and darkness integral to the changes it wrought in the way we live as any progress it brought. That said, who wants to go back? Even if we do, it's not possible.
In the same way, nobody knows what will happen now. Here in the early twenty-hundreds, the increase in the flow of information has started to change the way society works.
As an activist, speaking to other activists... Pick up a sign and stand on a street-corner. Pick up a bullhorn and a drum. Resist in all the usual ways. Then, pick up a smartphone. Pick up a digicam. Hurl your thoughts into the void of cyberspace, and listen for the echo. Old dogs, learn new tricks.
We can change the world, we already have. Seize this opportunity to democratize information forever, and fight any attempt to restrict its control to a few. Information wants to be free. Singularity anyone?
P.S. I have included links to sourcing for this article throughout, just click on the hyperlink text. Usually I use verified sources for my information, and so for information that it's important to source, I try and stay away from Wikipedia, not because it's not useful, but because it's live and changeable real-time, and so sometimes isn't accurate. For this post, I rely on it heavily, because the nature of Wikipedia lends to the spirit of my meaning here. I encourage all to use Wikipedia as a starting place, and use other information or resources to back any real research.
Saturday, July 17, 2010
A number of very real and critical problems confront us: Environmental disaster, impending environmental catastrophe, corporate malfeasance, economic injustice, corruption, violence, violations of civil rights, institutionalized prejudice, unpunished crimes, the problem of empire, the marginalization of victims. War and occupation.
For me it comes back to war. The official, though illegal, occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan is foremost in the national consciousness, as far as that goes. The wars we wage in the Sudan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Iran are less visible to the American public, but still there, and still have enormous consequences.
It's easy to pretend that someone other than the United States is waging the war and occupation by proxy in Gaza and the West Bank in Palestine. It's also much too easy to ignore it all completely. The consequences of this are just too much for many to grasp.
Even concentrating 'just' on Afghanistan (well, and Pakistan because you have to), the situation is almost too complex to parse.
Ethnic tensions are high, and the breakdown in Afghanistan(very roughly, and compiled from Wikipedia, so feel free to source check this) is:
The different groups operating in the region,(the 'bad guys' according to Richard Holbrooke, in the Maddow interview last week - the explanation starts on the YouTube link here at 7:45) are:
The Afghan Taliban
The Pakistani Taliban
The Haqqani Network
Now, throw into that mix:
The US Military
The Afghan Army (propped up by the US Military)
The Pakistani Army
The Afghan National Civil Order Police (ANCOP)
The British Military
Other Nato Troops
Joint Special Operations Command
(JSOC - an almost autonomous special ops
US Military group)
Other Private Miltary Companies (PMCs - basically Mercenaries)
What a fucking mess. I'm sure I left an important group or two out, and my breakdown is oversimplified. We're trying to get the people of Afghanistan to accept a single national civilian government? All of these groups have independent missions, and have a history and old resentments with other groups in the region.
One example is Haqqani, and his network. Jalaluddin Haqqani's importance goes back to the Soviet occupation, when he worked with the CIA. Unsurprisingly, despite his importance to the story, a character by that name did not appear in the movie "Charlie Wilson's War". The Haqqani Network was targeted by drone strikes allegedly orchestrated by the CIA base in Afghanistan, and not long afterwards, that base was taken completely by surprised by a suicide bomber. Seven CIA agents, and an employee of Blackwater/Xe, were killed.
The way JSOC, the CIA, and Xe (aka Blackwater) operate together in Afghanistan is detailed fairly exhaustively by Jeremy Scahill at the Nation. (Click for link)
I don't think I could sum it up better than Rachel Maddow did on her show on July 14th.
An excerpt from an AP quote in the below article: "Last month was the deadliest of the war for international forces: 103 coalition troops were killed, despite the infusion of tens of thousands of new U.S. troops."
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost
'Despite'. An increase in the number of troops killed, 'despite' the escalation of the war. The talking points and lack of internal consistency of the mainstream press (in this case the Associated Press) would baffle me if I thought they were doing anything but spouting propaganda towards the uninformed. This war was escalated from a half-assed occupation to full-on Vietnamization, and nearly every major voice in the media has treated it as an original strategy.
This will not end well. Holbrooke says that our national security depends on defeating terrorism in southwestern Asia. He says that the US administrations who thought that our national security depended on defeating communism in southeastern Asia were wrong, but that this time they're not wrong. Which "ism" is the next biggest threat? Majoritarianism?
The whole history of Vietnam has been shoved down the memory hole. Big Brother is watching, but 'any intrusion on privacy is "no greater than what the public already endures from traffic cameras."' We have always been at war with Eurasia, or is it Eastasia?
There's a lot going on in the world, and I think it's critical that people are advocating and struggling for economic and social justice, for environmental sanity, for human rights, and for peace - all at the same time. It's all really the same issue.
It's time to get involved and force an end to this madness. Pick up a protest sign, pick up a bullhorn, pick up a pen. The twenty-first century offers us more opportunities to speak out than in recent years, so if you don't have time to hit the streets, if you can't afford to travel, network online. Tweet to the world, and build a network. Use Facebook for more than playing Mafia or Farmville, and network your friends to the real issue in the world. Find out about Diaspora, probably the next big wave in social networking. Get involved in the emerging technology of virtual worlds, and join us in Second Life, at the Four Bridges Project, or the Commonwealth Islands, or Cafe Wellstone, or some other group - there are hundreds. At least connect the old fashioned way to some local progressive group to stay informed by using an email list-server.
The problems are serious, and I'm afraid we have to ramp up our skills to meet the challenge.