Today, what is it that shapes our interior lives of thoughts, imaginings and passions? For most Americans, increasingly for most of the world, it is electronic forms of entertainment. I do not think there can be any doubt that, rather than cultivating our awareness of the thoughts that destroy our personhood, entertainment media provide those thoughts with direct entry into and power over our imaginations and passions. In the terms of the hesychastic tradition, they constantly admit and reinforce all the demonic influences that render us incapable of communion, shaping a consciousness that does not even attain awareness of the possibility and reality of that communion. The Loss of a Culture of Personhood and the End of Limited Government ☀
The cause of freedom doesn’t depend on an “active and muscular” U.S. foreign policy. No one should view claims to this effect as anything more than propaganda, and lazy propaganda at that. In practice, those that promote the false idea of this connection between global freedom and U.S. activist foreign policy are among the first to rationalize support for any strongman or military dictator who happens to have the right domestic or foreign enemies. Because they identify the advance of the “cause of freedom” with the increase of U.S. influence, democratists will make excuses for abusive governments as long as they are aligned with Washington, and they are frequently taken in by local rulers that spout the right rhetoric while trampling on the rights of their opponents. For them, to be “pro-Western” is sufficient proof of having the right “values,” and genuine democrats and liberals that don’t want to align with the U.S. for their own reasons are usually viewed with suspicion. U.S. Foreign Policy and the “Cause of Freedom” ☀
Things are valuable because they are scarce. The more abundant they become, they cheaper they become. But a series of technological changes is underway that promises to end scarcity as we know it for a wide variety of goods. The Internet is the most obvious example, because the change there is furthest along. The Internet has reduced the cost of production and distribution of informational content effectively to zero. In many cases it has also dramatically reduced the cost of producing that content. And it has changed the way in which information is distributed, separating the creators of content from the distributors. More recently, new technologies promise to do for a variety of physical goods and even services what the Internet has already done for information. 3D printers can manufacture physical goods based on any digital design. Synthetic biology has automated the manufacture not just of copies of existing genetic sequences but any custom-made gene sequence, allowing anyone who want to create a gene sequence of their own to upload the sequence to a company that will “print” it using the basic building blocks of genetics. And advances in robotics offer the prospect that many of the services humans now provide can be provided free of charge by general-purpose machines that can be programmed to perform a variety of complex functions. IP in a World Without Scarcity ☀
As a category, voluntary slavery is a fairly natural extension of certain fundamental principles of liberalism, much the same principles which guided Suárez and Molina. It is a logical implicate of two ideas: (1) that a person is at liberty to alienate their own rights (which is necessary for political consent to function as the foundation of a stable government: certain rights, such as self-governance, must be sacrificed to the state) and (2) that liberty is an alienable right (this is how, for instance, our prison system works: the state reserves the power to deprive individuals of their freedom if they commit certain crimes). If I am at liberty to alienate my rights, including my liberty itself, then certainly the option is available to me to turn over my liberty to another, either temporarily or in perpetuity, and make myself a slave. Voluntary Slavery: A Liberal Problematic ☀
The American notion that freedom is about the individual is false. Freedom is always relational. When Paul wrote “but through love become slaves to one another,” he meant that we are bound to one another. We can be bound to one another through love or through hate. The question of freedom is always the same: Are we going to use freedom in a negative and idolatrous way that leads us to unite over and against our fellow human beings as we fight for “freedom”? Or are we going to use freedom in a positive way that leads us to love our neighbors as ourselves? 'Duck Dynasty' and the Idolatry of Freedom ☀
There is nothing more important than the right to vote. That’s why John Lewis got his head cracked open trying to get his right to vote back. And the idea that this most precious of democratic commodities is in the hands of someone whose only previous experience in government was presiding over a company that defrauded it is a measure of how unworthy of those sacrifices the nation has become. Charles P. Pierce ☀
Weibo users’ conduct will be enforced with a points system (yep, they just gamified censorship) wherein you lose points for posting rumors or criticisms and earn points for, say, verifying your own identity. If you get down to zero points, your Weibo account gets terminated. You think terms of service are tricky? Check out this Chinese ‘code of conduct’ ☀
The Internet stands at a crossroads. Built from the bottom up, powered by the people, it has become a powerful economic engine and a positive social force. But its success has generated a worrying backlash. Around the world, repressive regimes are putting in place or proposing measures that restrict free expression and affect fundamental rights. The number of governments that censor Internet content has grown to 40 today from about four in 2002. And this number is still growing, threatening to take away the Internet as you and I have known it. Some of these steps are in reaction to the various harms that can be and are being propagated through the network. Like almost every major infrastructure, the Internet can be abused and its users harmed. We must, however, take great care that the cure for these ills does not do more harm than good. The benefits of the open and accessible Internet are nearly incalculable and their loss would wreak significant social and economic damage. Vinton Cerf ☀
The Automation of Government Coercion ☀
- Mark: Switching gears just a bit... We've watched the SOPA/PIPA controversy, now its CISPA; the "Stellar Wind" project was featured in Wired last month, and recently an NSA whistleblower, former Director William Binney, came out and said flat out that the government is lying, they intercept and store everything we do, Constitution be damned. It seems the government won't stop until it completely controls the flow of information on the Internet and has the ability to monitor and record everything we say and do online. You're a counter-terrorism expert, how much of this is hype and how much of it is really necessary to safeguard national security, in your opinion. And what about our civil liberties and right to privacy?
- John: It’s a mixed bag. There’s certainly lots of concern in regards to how the NSA gathers data on US citizens. Added to what the private sector is gathering, its safe to conclude that we don’t have any privacy.
- For example, nearly every new phone sold today has a GPS chip in it. It’s constantly gathering data on where that phone is and sending it to the phone company. All of that phone company data, from all of the phone companies across the world, is aggregated and provided to select governments for use in counter-terrorism. In short, the three billion people that are using cell phones are being tracked in order to help find and kill a couple hundred terrorists (its contribution is probably limited to being the primary source for neutralizing a couple of terrorists a year).
- What do they do with this data? All of the public and private data collected -- from credit card purchases to library records to Internet usage to GPS cell phone data to EZPass info to aerial photos -- is being constantly analyzed by computers for what is called a “terrorist profile.” This network analysis software is looking for patterns of activity that would indicate a specific person is a terrorist, or part of a terrorist cell. The problem with this analysis? It doesn’t work if you don’t have a starting point, a known terrorist, that you can work outwards from. If you don’t have a reference point, the analysis generates too many false positives to be of use.
- This analysis gets really scary when you President can now designate any US citizen an enemy combatant without going through a judicial process. This Presidential list is the equivalent of hit list. What does it take to get put on this list? How big can this list get? Nobody knows. It's probably safe to assume that this list will become increasingly automated over time with nearly zero human oversight (just guidance).
- On top of all of this, killing people designated as terrorists is getting much, much easier. When I was in counter-terrorism, getting to the bad guys and back safely was risky. Every operation put dozens of people at extreme risk. Now, all you need is an armed drone. Armed drones are killing hundreds of people a day now in Pakistan. Drones, instead of troops and airplanes, are increasingly becoming the way the US controls the world. From a political perspective, using drones is nearly costless. No shot down pilots on TV. No body bags. All it costs is money, and less and less money as drones get smaller, smarter, and more deadly.
- So, if you combine the automation of terrorist identification with an administrative “hit” list with automated drones that execute the order, you have a global killing machine. A machine that requires very few people to run and can kill almost anyone that triggers in in a matter of minutes.
- What will be done with it? If we end up in a disorderly economic depression, as it increasingly looks like we will, we’re going get a good demonstration of what life under automated authoritarianism.
- Last word. There’s also a whole host of laws and regulations that are aimed at restricting our freedoms in favor of the Intellectual Property mafia. They want the ability to censor everything we see and shut down web sites if there is even a whiff of IP infringement. Massive, automated censorship is going on now. Google blocks 300,000 URLs a week from its search results due to corporate pressure. Are all of these requests to block infringing content reviewed? No. It’s automated. It’s non-judicial. It’s simply corporate censorship.
Digital information, unconstrained by packaging, is a continuing process more like the metamorphosing tales of prehistory than anything that will fit in shrink wrap. From the Neolithic to Gutenberg, information was passed on, mouth to ear, changing with every re-telling (or re-singing). The stories that once shaped our sense of the world didn’t have authoritative versions. They adapted to each culture in which they found themselves being told. Because there was never a moment when the story was frozen in print, the so-called “moral” right of storytellers to keep the tale their own was neither protected nor recognized. The story simply passed through each of them on its way to the next, where it would assume a different form. As we return to continuous information, we can expect the importance of authorship to diminish. Creative people may have to renew their acquaintance with humility. John Perry Barlow ☀
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