Last week, we won. The Internet, long seen as a mostly harmless collection of kitten aficionados and porn fiends, fought epic battle of self preservation against a substantially better organized enemy, one with much greater experience of that field of battle. But much like Aaron Burr against Alexander Hamilton, crazy random happenstance came into play at the right moment, and the massive dose of overkill didn’t hurt – it was just what the good doctor ordered. Our foe went back to Hollywood, tail between feet, and even admitted in an interview thereafter, in minced words, that they had effectively not bribed politicians sufficiently. It was great. You should’ve been there.
But this silver lining also has an associated cloud, and its shaped like a mushroom. Looking over the forlorn battlefield our only martyr lies rotting: MegaUpload, a vehemently illegal cast member, gutted at the last minute by authorities created to combat corruption and protect civil liberties (seriously). Too bad. So be it.
In the meantime, we’re celebrating. And yet we shouldn’t, because we just made one of the most grievous errors imaginable. On the 18th of January, many netizens protested in various ways. Reddit shut down for a while, Google posted a censorship warning. Khan Academy and TED pulled their weight honorably. Wikipedia went dark for an entire day. A full spin of the globe. Serious measures.
Put into context, this was our trump card, our nuclear deterrent. We just escalated the arms race plenty by putting thermonuclear computational equivalence into play against what amounts to a well funded mafia of global interests. We could’ve been more subtle.
I was one of those who supported Wikipedia’s blackout. After the fact I see that it was wrong, because what we did there was provide Dodd and his cronies (which he needs since he’s not allowed to lobby directly until 2013) with a value estimation of what evil censorship laws such as SOPA and PIPA not passing is worth to us. One day a year. That’s 1/365.25th of the year, in case you’re wondering. That’s about 1/365.25th of our total time currency. Copyright is weaponised time.
What should be understood as generational warfare, where the Internet generation demands the same liberties for creativity as was granted to our great-grandparents, just got reduced to a game where our enemy, a well funded mafia with a fantastically powerful government sponsored protection racket, knows our caliber.
What happens next? Dodd and pals start working on SOPA 2.0 and PIPA 2.0 and DMCA 2.0 and ACTA 2.0 and all the other two-point-ohs, trying to figure out how to sneak it past us, but now they know our currency. How much more powerful do they have to make it for us to cower in fear? Next time, will we need to black out for two days, or three? Thirty, perhaps? Where does it stop?
In the grand scheme of things, SOPA and PIPA are little other than temporary annoyances, like mosquitoes – definitely worth squatting, but not really worth the effort of pulling out your Glock or your launch keys. And while nobody has ever taken down an international mafia with bug spray, that just shows that our methods aren’t toxic enough.
We committed overkill. We won, but too heavily. Now the ground we tread on is radioactive and may itself decay upon further incursions into our realm. What can we do?
I’m not much of a cyberlibertarian, but I have a soft spot for them. They had a few things right, even if suffering from frontier blindness: the overarching belief of those at the frontier of human development is always that they are untouchable. History creeps up on them in their sleep. John Perry Barlow was unequivocal in his righteous demand for sovereignty and independence for Cyberspace, he foresaw that nation states were inherently incapable of existing in a post-territorial communications space. And yet somehow, due to a splendid mix of cronyism, corruption, greed and stealth, we’ve found ourselves in the situation that national interests have strong armed the debate on a field of physical infrastructure and border-theoretical governance.
The Internet is no longer free from incursion from nation states, so anything that can be understood through the delineation of national borders, encapsulated in national interests, or affected through national political processes can affect the Internet directly. Being on the defensive is not going to be a winning strategy. Money just got tight: there’s only so much blackouting we can survive.
So let’s go on the offensive. Instead of having traditional politics interfere with the Internet, it’s time for the Internet to interfere with traditional politics. The various Pirate Parties have moved us part of the way towards establishing a theory of networked information politics, but it’s nowhere near complete. There are a lot of deep fundamental questions that still need to be asked, and a lot of it’s going to require some deep philosophical navel gazing. But I think we can do it.
Not really because I have a problem with the copyright mafia, even though I do. Much more because I’ve been watching meatspace politicians and their bankrupt ideologies take humanity out for too many rodeos. They’ve long since outstayed their welcome, and they must be ousted. Networked politics, information politics, is the way to fix things.
Who else is in favor of aiming our cannons at bigger targets, and quitting with the grapeshot?