Nettime mailing list archives

Re: <nettime> Frank Rieger: We lost the War--Welcome to the World of Tom
Karin Spaink on Sun, 8 Jan 2006 08:01:35 +0100 (CET)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

Re: <nettime> Frank Rieger: We lost the War--Welcome to the World of Tomorrow

On Jan 07, 2006, at 17:47 , Geert Lovink wrote:

[bcc'd to Frank and Rop]

> (Between Xmas and New Year, Rop Grongrijp (NL) and Frank Riegel (DE)
> held two impressive but surpringly depressive speeches at the 22nd
> Chaos Computer Club conference in Berlin.

Actually, it was one speech, delivered by the two of them. I had some  
comments back then and meanwhile I have gathered more. I'm writing a  
response in Dutch, but I might as well organise my thoughts by  
jotting down some comments here.

> Losing a war is never a pretty situation. So it is no wonder that most
> people do not like to acknowledge that we have lost. We had a  
> reasonable
> chance to tame the wild beast of universal surveillance technology,
> approximately until september 10th, 2001. One day later, we had lost.

I'm not sure about that. I was already pretty depressed at the way  
things were developing regaring surveillance on Sept 10, 2001. Big  
Brother and his nasty little sisters certainly got a big push forward  
that day, but the clear-cut break that Frank and Rop pose is a  
falsity, I believe. There was no big break. There was only acceleration.

> Just right before, everything looked not too bad. We had survived Y2K
> with barely a scratch. The world's outlook was mildly optimistic after
> all. [..] The waves of technology development seemed to work in favor
> of freedom, most of the time. The future looked like a yellow brick
> road to a nirvana of endless bandwith, the rule of ideas over matter
> and dissolving nation states.

The future looked mildly optimistic in 2001? You're kidding. In May  
2002 I finished an overview of international restrictions placed on  
the internet for the OSCE's office for the Freedom of the Media. It  
lists a number of problems that were by then well established (see  
http://www.spaink.net/english/osce_internetfreedom.html for the full  
- mandatory internet filtering based on content by states, including  
benevolent ones like Germany, France and Australia;
- snooping, eavesdropping and interception of communication by both  
Echelon and Carnivore;
- constitutional rights to freedom of written expression being  
nullified either by applying press rules on internet publications, or  
by monopolies (you may have the right to publish and your writings  
may be deemed legal by the district attorney, but if your provider's  
upstream provider is MCI/Worldcom or Priority Telecom, national rules  
do not apply, only the DMCA - viz. the Flashback case in Sweden,  
2000. and Extended Internet in the Netherlands, 2001.
- Google and Yahoo were already complying heartily with the  
requirements of the Chinese government to block sites at the  
discretion of that government, whereby both seriously damaged their  
position as a search 'engine' and turned indexing the web into a  
major political matter.

> We are now deep inside the other kind of future, the future that we
> speculated about as a worst case scenario, back then. This is the ugly
> future, the one we never wanted, the one that we fought to prevent. We
> failed. Probably it was not even our fault. But we are forced to live
> in it now.

I don't think it's our fault either. And I agree that we are by now  
rapidly moving towards a worst case scenario; it's just that I don't  
agree with your analysis. And that matters, perhaps not only to me.  
Because with the wrong analysis, you can't figure the right solution.

> Democracy is already over
> By its very nature the western democracies have become a playground  
> for
> lobbyists, industry interests and conspiracies that have absolutely no
> interest in real democracy. The "democracy show" must go on
> nonetheless. Conveniently, the show consumes the energy of those that
> might otherwise become dangerous to the status quo. The show provides
> the necessary excuse when things go wrong and keeps up the illusion of
> participation.

I agree with that, too. Alas. But that is one point where I see an  
internal conflict or contradiction. Rop took the floor again during  
the closing ceremony of the CCC to respond to some of the comments  
that you and he received on your collaborate speech, and ended by  
saying that we should stand for democracy and cherish it. Why, if I  
may ask? Or. more difficult and to the point: _how_? Only days before  
you had declared democracy to be dead, in which case any call to  
stand up for it is moot and evidence of a bad case of nostalgia.

I don't know what to do, either. It seems that the representative  
system has come to a grinding halt - and that is disregarding the  
debate whether Bush did or did not steal the vote, a debate that I  
consider to be nostalgic as well. By now, European politics are not  
decided by citizens casting their votes but by the European  
Committee, a disastrously undemocratic body, and very influential  
lobbies of multi-nationals. My only reason left to vote is to show,  
on that level too, that I do not agree with the way things are going;  
but I don't expect much from voting.

What else can we - I, you, us - do? I dunno. Nobody believes in armed  
revolution, so that's off, fortunately. What's left sounds rather  
lame. Propose alternatives. Keep addressing people. Show them the  
fallibility of the main-stream argument. Show them the risks _for  
them_ of what is going on. We have either not been very apt at that  
or we have underestimated the opposition. That, or people are not as  
smart as we thought.

Apart from the backlash in politics and the surge in surveillance,  
you mentioned a series of other problems that all of us face,  
regardless of our political conviction.

Work and globalization:

> First, paid manual labor will be eaten away further by technology,  
> even
> more rapidly than today. Robotics will evolve far enough to kill a
> sizeable chunk of the remaining low-end manual jobs. [..]  
> Globalization
> continues its merciless course and will also export a lot of jobs of
> the brain-labor type [..] So the western societies will end up with a
> large percentage of population, at least a third, but possibly half of
> those in working age, having no real paid work. [..]

Climate change:

> Second, climate change increases the frequency and devastation of
> natural disasters, creating large scale emergency situations.  
> Depending
> on geography, large parts of land may become uninhabitable due to
> draught, flood, fires or plagues.

Somebody - hi, John! - told me that he doesn't believe in the climate  
change theory, but when I went out into my little garden on New  
Year's Day, I say the snapdragons and a rose in full blossom, and my  
fuchsia's were budding brightly red. On a bigger scale: the US has  
run out of letters in the alphabet to name hurricanes by, and polar  
bears are getting cranky because their space - ice - is disappearing  

> Third, immigration pressure from neighboring regions will raise in all
> western countries. It looks like the climate disaster will strike  
> worst
> at first in areas like Africa and Latin America and the economy there
> is unlikely to cope any better than the western countries with
> globalization and other problems ahead. So the number of people who
> want to leave from there [..] The nearly unavoidable reaction
> will be a Fortress Europe: serious border controls and fortifications,
> frequent and omnipresent internal identity checks, fast and merciless
> deportation of illegal immigrants, biometrics on every possible  
> corner.

We're doing that already.

> Fourth, at some point in the next decades the energy crisis will  
> strike
> with full force. Oil will cost a fortune as production capacities can
> no longer be extended economically to meet the rising demand. Natural
> gas and coal will last a bit longer, a nuclear renaissance may dampen
> the worst of the pains. But the core fact remains: a massive change in
> energy infrastructure is unavoidable.

Nuclear energy won't save us, either. For I while I thought that  
perhaps we were wrong in the '70s and '80s to oppose nuclear energy,  
but the risks are still great. And besides, they will only cater to  
our need for _electricity_ and not for fuel. And nuclear energy  
breeders need oil, too: to be fabricated, to be run.

> Fifth, we are on the verge of technology developments that may require
> draconic restrictions and controls to prevent the total disruption of
> society. Genetic engineering and other biotechnology as well as
> nanotechnology (and potentially free energy technologies if they  
> exist)
> will put immense powers into the hands of skilled and knowledgeable
> individuals.

I would add a sixth, one that you mention as a by-line: global  
pandemic. Aids is still doing fine and is gaining ground, has  
orphaned whole sections of African nations and is killing people in  
their prime: those who would otherwise build and strengthen the  
country, or, if the region is in turmoil, fight wars. We don't pay  
much attention to that, but that doesn't make it less bad. Apart from  
that, I do believe that a new, fast-acting pandemic is neigh in ten,  
twenty years, and it will be far, far worse than aids. Like all  
plagues and disasters, be they man-made or natural, the people with  
less resources will be affected incomparably worse than the affluent  
and the resourceful.

But in general I take a sort of sardonic perspective on that. The  
earth is overpopulated, as a species we are depleting her and we're  
trampling other species in the process. For the ecosystem as a whole,  
it would be a relief if we were decimated. My 'only' worry is that  
even pandemics are political in their effects and will thus  
strengthen and reinforce current  power structures. Which is your  
worry, too.

> Given the general raise in paranoia, most people (and for
> sure those in power) will not continue to trust that common sense will
> prevent the worst. There will be a tendency of controls that keep this
> kind of technology in the hands of "trustworthy" corporations or state
> entities.

This is where you lost me. You list a series of HUGE problems that  
everybody seems to ignore, and if not, solves in the most stupidest  
fashion, and then you continue to say that 'most people will not  
_continue_ to trust that common sense will prevent the worst'? I  
don't know about you, but I have not believed for one second that  
common sense will solve peak oil, climate change, pandemics or lack  
of democracy, and it certainly won't solve any coagulation of these  
problems. Common sense? Common sense hasn't even solved the  
surveillance surge, and that is where we _try_ to appeal to it. The  
only thing that might solve _some_ of these major problems is out  
classical erratic scientist who doggedly pursues what s/he believes  
is a valuable course, although others think it is quite mad. That,  
and a touch of survivalism of course :)

> Science may no longer be a harmless, self-regulating
> thing but something that needs to be tightly controlled and regulated,
> at least in the critical areas.

Science was never harmless. People have been beheaded over science,  
locked up and tortured. Churches of all denominations have fought  
science. Politics has fought science. Honestly, there is a touch of  
nostalgia in this co-speech. Nostalgia for what has never been.

> Traditional democratic values have been eroded to the point where most
> people don't care anymore. So the loss of rights our ancestors fought
> for not so long ago is at first happily accepted by a majority that  
> can
> easily be scared into submission.

I'm not sure about that. Many people indeed disagree with current  
trends, but many are as I: they don't know what to do, or how to go  
about it. It's not so much apathy, as your sub-text seems to state;  
more a quiet despair. And a strong feeling of 'Please don't scratch  
this painful spot, otherwise that despair might get out of control.'  
And I believe that this unrest or despair is not only over politics.  
Modern life has become _very_ demanding end complex, to the point  
that I get relieved when my new computer does _not_ put up a fight  
before it does what I bought it for. Sometimes I am relieved to not  
need to look further than my own private life and my short-term  
goals, and even there I fail too often. If I wanted to do more, I  
would honestly not know where to begin. So no, it's not submission.  
It's being overwhelmed. The problems are just too big and far too many.

> The Technologies of Oppression
> We can imagine most of the surveillance and oppression technology
> rather well. Blanket CCTV coverage is reality in some cities already.
> Communication pattern analysis (who talks to whom at what times) is
> frighteningly effective.

It's not. Perhaps that is what we should start to point out: with  
Carnivore and Echelon duly in place, with communication analysis and  
what have you, intelligence all over the world is still a joke. In  
part because crime has been re-defined: fraud by companies is never  
part of intelligence investigation. In part because they have been  
looking in the wrong places. In part because it is in the nature of  
terrorists to strike where least expected.

We should start a completely different debate. How much freedom _are_  
we willing to give up for safety? _Who_ is willing to give up such  
freedoms, and who not? Do those who are willing to go a great length,  
bear in mind that by the time that they are disappointed, they might  
have given up their means to protest? And if _you_ are willing to  
give up so many freedoms, what about me and him and her, who are not  
prepared to do so? Why should I give up freedom X for the peace of  
mind of Z, who I don't even know/like/trust?

> The key question for establishing an effective surveillance based
> police state is to keep it low-profile enough that "the ordinary
> citizen" feels rather protected than threatened, at least until all  
> the
> pieces are in place to make it permanent.

That makes it sound like a master plan, a giant conspiracy. I don't  
think that either Frank or Rop believes in one, but there are traits  
of it in both this essay and in your co-speech. The problem with  
conspiracy theories, of course, is not only that the maintainer will  
not allow to be disproved, but mostly that they are massive and  
totalitarian. Thus, they enhance despair and this feeling of being  
helpless in the face of major problems.

> .. where is hope for freedom, creativity and fun? To be
> honest, we need to assume that it will take a couple of decades before
> the pendulum will swing back into the freedom direction, barring a
> total breakdown of civilization as we know it. Only when the  
> oppression
> becomes to burdensome and open, there might be a chance to get back to
> overall progress of mankind earlier.

The trouble is that as per your own words, we don't have a few  
decades. The breakdown of democracy, peak oil, climate change,  
pandemia all seem unstoppable. And they will co-occur. In which case  
surveillance will be the least of our problems, inasfar as when there  
is a fuel crisis, all those nice methods of gathering information -  
based on electricity and technology - will go crumbling. Besides,  
monitoring your population is a bit useless when they're just sick  
and dying, or being flooded.

Nah, I am not _that_ pessimistic. I'm trying to point out that _if_  
all the other major points that you have made are true, your analysis  
of surveillance is problematic: there will be so much more going on,  
so much more _basic_ - that surveillance becomes trite and can't be  
upheld. If everything is falling apart, states and intelligence  
services will have too much to do to surveil us.

Rop made another point during the closing ceremony which did strike  
home. In the 80s and 90s we have warned eloquently that if measure-so- 
and-so would be implemented, as a society we'd give rise to a police  
state; and that by now, we must face the fact that we _have_ handed  
our respective state precisely those means. We should re-assess, most  
definitely. In that respect I was most happy with your co-speech and  
your effort to make us re-think our position and efforts, and I hope  
that the analysis that you offered can be tuned.

> So where to put your energy then? Trying to play the political game,
> fighting against software patents, surveillance laws, and privacy
> invasions in parliament and the courts can be the job of a  
> lifetime. It
> has the advantage that you will win a battle from time to time and can
> probably slow things down. You may even be able to prevent a gross
> atrocity here and there. But in the end, the development of technology
> and the panic level of the general population will chew a lot of your
> victories for breakfast.

So does the vision of this five or six major problems coming our way.  
You describe them extensively, but then they sort of sink away in the  
second half of your essay. Or perhaps we disagree and you think that  
surveillance is the main problem, not peak oil or the climate change.

- K -

Easy reading is damned hard writing.
   - Nathaniel Hawthorne

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: majordomo {AT} bbs.thing.net and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: http://www.nettime.org contact: nettime {AT} bbs.thing.net