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09.13.20

Weapons, Technology and Freedom

Posted in Free/Libre Software at 3:04 am by Guest Editorial Team

By figosdev

Weapons

Summary: “We have too much war, and we have too much stupid (unwise, foolish, destructive) technology.”

This is not technically / really about the 2nd Amendment.

In the 1980s, I met a man who had worked on the Manhattan Project. I was very young, and his involvement was not the point of the meeting; I went to meet an electronics engineer, and he happened to be a very famous one. I knew him as the inventor of the strobe light.

He showed us around his lab at MIT — where he had numerous framed patents on the wall (albeit extremely dusty ones) and a cabinet full of underwater lighting equipment (which he used to look for “Nessie” with Cousteau) and a cluttered desk with a large stuffed toy polar bear in front of it, wearing 3D glasses and holding a Sprite can (given that decades have passed, it could have been 7UP).

“I didn’t grow up loving war, but I understood that technology plays a role in Defence.”He could have very easily been one of the scientists who didn’t think they would use the thing.

Perhaps it’s (CIA) Hollywood to thank for this, but the two reasons I’m not 100% uncomfortable living in a world where these sorts of devices exist are asteroids and the fairly remote possibility of hostile extra-terrestrial contact. So let’s stick with asteroids. I’m not an expert in geology, ballistics or warheads, so I really can’t tell you if having them will help protect us from asteroids or not. I am pretty confident, however, that rifles and even the A-10 cannon (designed, as was the computer that BASIC and DTSS first ran on, by General Electric) would be ineffective.

“I am an anti-war activist, for longer than I’ve been a Free Software activist — because most wars are illegal, unnecessary and for-profit.”I also knew someone who designed part of the SR-71 spy plane. I didn’t grow up loving war, but I understood that technology plays a role in Defence. Not only this, but Defence plays a major role in technology. Watching the history of BSD with Marshall Kirk McKusick is a reminder of this, but obviously the US DOD (DARPA in particular) plays a prominent role in the history of the Internet as well.

I am an anti-war activist, for longer than I’ve been a Free Software activist — because most wars are illegal, unnecessary and for-profit. This is an understanding of war nobody bothered to give me when I was younger, but even then I knew that killing for profit is wrong — I simply didn’t know how much war was a for-profit venture. (We need to get the USD out of the US DOD. But we all know that the former is propped up by the latter).

I’m not sure all war is wrong, nor do I think turning our backs on technology in general is the answer. If we live without technology, we will still find it flying over our heads, following our interactions, even finding its way into our food. Today some people are sceptical of GMOs, tomorrow more people will be sceptical of nano-technology. They have a nano-tech coating for the inside of ketchup bottles, so it seems more likely than not that the complaints by organic food advocates of tomorrow will s/GMOs/nanotech/ at least sometimes.

We have too much war, and we have too much stupid (unwise, foolish, destructive) technology. Of that much I am certain. But unless we decide to let authority have command over thought itself, we will need to be able to discuss these things about the human existence in order to improve them.

One of the dumbest wars we’ve ever had of course, is the war on intelligent conversation. By “intelligent” I don’t mean elitist, Ivy League, erudite and formal exchange; I simply mean conversation where you aren’t required to either be an idiot or pretend to be one. I consider Debian’s efforts to stifle any discussion (down to indirect mention or even non-mention) of the war crimes against civilians in Palestine to be a crime in and of itself. To participate in Debian, you either have to be an idiot, or pretend to be one.

Details matter too, but I am fond of the idea that it is philosophy’s job to look for root causes of what we consider problems. Some of the overarching narratives and themes that accompany our marching on for profit are more interesting than the cliched excuses and rhetoric they tend to produce. When you want to understand computers, you should look under the GUI, at least. When you want to understand war, you can follow the money though it’s not the only level these things work on. Ultimately you will need a better understanding of humanity itself (unless you’re content with cliches, I mean).

“I’m no fan of the Free Software Award, or the Nobel Peace Prize, but not because I’m no fan of Free Software or Peace.”Of course I would like war kept to a minimum — I probably wouldn’t miss it if we did away with it entirely, though I doubt that’s going to happen. War isn’t something we found stashed under a mountain and decided to play with, accidentally blanketing the planet with conflict. It is an aspect of human (not only human) interaction, exacerbated by millennia of changes in the way that humans organise politically. We’ve tried, to our credit — to ban it on different levels. Some of those efforts are probably brilliant, while others are more likely naive. We should keep trying to get things right, because the alternative is monstrous.

I’m no fan of the Free Software Award, or the Nobel Peace Prize, but not because I’m no fan of Free Software or Peace. They tried to give the Nobel Peace Prize to Henry Kissinger; they haven’t given the Free Software Award to Nat Friedman yet as far as I know, but they did give it to Miguel de Icaza.

These sorts of awards do as much to confuse the issues they are related to as they do to celebrate already-celebrated heroes of peace and freedom, and I’m against them — not because I’m against fun or celebration (have a cake on the anniversary of your/favourite free software project, I celebrated my own with chocolate torte) but because I’m against elevating the worst kinds of bullshit and corruption to the level of a ceremony. It’s time to retire the Free Software Award as well as the Nobel Peace Prize… not that they probably will. If you really want to celebrate peace, do it by ending a war. It’s not as glamorous, or as easy — but unlike the Peace Prize it actually means something.

As much as I would like war kept to a minimum, the central point of this long-winded essay is that sometimes our way of fighting for a cause like peace is done in a way that defeats our goal much more than it furthers it. And that sort of statement typically segues into some defence of P.R. tactics, formality and tone arguments. We’ve had more than enough of those, they’re pretty much the opposite of what I want to say.

Weapon of Mass Destruction

Too much “progress”, at least these days, is founded on the idea of having comfortable, polite conversations. Just because we ask that you be polite, the rhetoric goes, doesn’t mean that you can’t discuss important issues.

That’s not really true though, because the whole idea of what constitutes politeness is based on comfort, and not every important issue can be resolved with a comfortable conversation. (Also people are human, and you probably shouldn’t rate someone’s worth to activism by whether they’re capable of discussing pointless and politically-motivated death like the sociopathic mannequins in the corporate media). Guess what? The human brain has several layers with different functions that sometimes compete with each other, the human psyche has various foibles, and ejecting people who can’t pretend they’re emotionless robots is so Neo-Victorian, you might as well not let people attend public meetings if we find out they (Gasp!) masturbate at home. (Thank you, Cory Doctorow).

Talking about Middle Eastern politics is not a great way to have a comfortable conversation, and avoiding Middle Eastern politics altogether is not a great way to be a peace activist. So this business of “being polite” which really comes down to “don’t make people uncomfortable” is unfortunately, mostly a lot of bullshit. To participate in Debian, you either have to be an idiot, or pretend to be one.

“…too many people you find promotion of the inane concept that by removing those images from society, we can remove them from human behaviour.”Debian is a big example, it’s prominent, but it really is just an example. This is a problem that ultimately affects all activism and philosophy itself — we are creating a society that literally values comfort over thought. That’s a hallmark of pure decadence — I mean Fall-of-the-Roman-Empire kind of decadence.

But this isn’t just about the enormous roadblock between here and real progress caused by stifling intelligent conversation — it’s just as much about the things we would be able to talk about, if we weren’t raising a new generation of idiots to run away from actual thought and philosophy itself — if we weren’t creating Mandatory Idiocy policies as a prerequisite for participating in any progressive activities.

I’ve read loads of the garbage that Susan Sontag wrote about metaphors, War and disease. It’s nearly the most numbing, idiotic stuff I’ve ever read in my life. She’s right at least, that P.R. overdoes it with these metaphors. Though she heads in a Naomi Klein like direction, until you’d swear she was laying a foundation for Anita Sarkeesian — I know that images and metaphors play a role in propaganda, but in too many people you find promotion of the inane concept that by removing those images from society, we can remove them from human behaviour.

It’s baseless, handwavey superstitious babble, and just about as stupid as anything gets. Beyond this it is extremely invasive — let’s use what amounts to mind control to improve humanity. How about, No? Calling that sort of thing “Leftist cult tactics” isn’t hyperbole, it’s very literally a cult tactic. I’m not saying the “right” doesn’t do it as well.

But as some people try to create peace by running away from war (first as a tactic, and ultimately as a topic of discussion) we can either prostrate ourselves as subjects of these idiots or we can rebel against them. Not that most of the people “rebelling” are any good for conversation — I checked out Gab, Roy quotes responses from Minds in the logs, I still have an account at that Facebook alternative (whatever it’s called) that is mostly right-wing nutjobs. I know, there’s a couple of them. I’d probably have to do password recovery to visit the one I’m thinking of.

“Should he be able to talk about things that are important to talk about? How the hell is that even a question?”We still have to reserve the right to have intelligent (and uncomfortable) conversations about uncomfortable topics, if we want to change the world. Gandhi didn’t worry that his rants about western society or the British might get turned around as being racist, he took a lot of inspiration from Thoreau. But we could have done it — we could have simply called him a racist and pretended that ridiculous accusation negated whatever he had to say. I’m really not even that much of a Gandhi fan (MLK, Thoreau, Malcolm X? Yes. Gandhi? Ehhhh…) but beside that detail, he still talked about things that were important to talk about. Should he be able to talk about things that are important to talk about? How the hell is that even a question?

It’s not just that some technology (like the Internet) might not exist if not for tension and violence between various human factions. It’s that uncomfortable topics are part of a broad, connected philosophical tapestry — and we can’t talk about liberating humanity (from humanity) while avoiding every uncomfortable part of that tapestry.

If we run away from the topics of war and human rights violations, we start to become party to the propaganda tactics used to make war and human rights violations more palatable to the public — in trying to make conversation more humane, we do the opposite of what many imply, which is that words and images are the source of all violence; we actually increase the amount of violence by making it impossible to talk about how awful it is. I’m hardly the first to say so, George Carlin even had a routine about it. But would you stop being so politically correct if you realised that (by design) it actually leads to MORE deaths, NOT fewer? (FUCK YOU, A BILLION FUCKING TIMES, MIKE GODWIN! YOU should get the Nobel Peace Prize. Hell, they should rename it after you…)

“Imagine trying to show the horrors of slavery without being able to show the horrors of slavery — of sanitising Roots or taking anything uncomfortable out of the Holocaust museum. The implications of every argument for sanitisation are nonsensical.”And people will say that everybody already knows how awful it is, otherwise it couldn’t be traumatic or uncomfortable. But that’s a completely dishonest argument, because if we sanitise all future debates, many people indeed will have no idea what any of us are actually talking about — because we will try to have every conversation without actually talking about the problems we are discussing.

Imagine trying to show the horrors of slavery without being able to show the horrors of slavery — of sanitising Roots or taking anything uncomfortable out of the Holocaust museum. The implications of every argument for sanitisation are nonsensical.

We are already getting to the point where we can’t even talk about the EFFECTS of censorship, because people will invariably argue that you’re simply complaining about censorship itself — and that’s really just because you want to say something horrible — there’s no other reason to complain about censorship, like all the reasons human rights activists have for hundreds of years…

“If you want to advocate for freedom, you have to able to talk about the things that happen when that freedom is missing from the equation.”In fact, what I’m trying to say is that we are removing our ability to talk about ANY problems AT ALL — because we are as a society becoming increasingly uncomfortable speaking for ourselves and having real conversations — we are being taught to let someone “qualified” speak for us instead. And to separate all connections between topics (like war and technology) and pretend they don’t exist or don’t have historical significance (thus implications for the future).

To participate in PROGRESS, you must either be an idiot, or pretend to be one — by pretending you don’t know what you know.

That’s a foundation for a non-society, for a slave state where everyone is truly voiceless. If you want to advocate for freedom, you have to able to talk about the things that happen when that freedom is missing from the equation.

Invariably, you will have to talk about the negative effects that lack of freedom has.

Invariably, that will upset an individual or a sponsor. FUCK EM! They are not THAT important. We can’t simply reshape the fabric of the universe (and truly abandon what it is we DO) to make those people happy. Though we will be “asked” to. And a$ long a$ we are a$ked politely to abandon our very cause (at least on any meaningful level) then it might as well be reasonable to ask.

“You can’t explain why the Internet exists without talking about war.”If you remove the topic of war from the topic of technology, you can’t talk about the technology. The two are connected in many ways, from surveillance to other human rights abuses, to the same political problems (partisan and otherwise) that we are trying to mitigate and solve, to the history or purposes of the technology. You can’t explain why the Internet exists without talking about war.

Nearly 20 years ago, it was a bigger risk speaking out against war, because being against war (suddenly) meant you were FOR terrorists.

Today, it’s a bigger risk speaking out against censorship — if you’re against censorship, it means you’re FOR racists and other horrible people. And I’m as unimpressed by this foolishness as I was nearly two decades ago. Some of you are (obviously) idiots, but many of you are too stifled.

“Today, it’s a bigger risk speaking out against censorship — if you’re against censorship, it means you’re FOR racists and other horrible people.”We sometimes pretend (or are expected to pretend) that you can solve software freedom problems without uncomfortable conversations — the same way politicians insist you can have backdoors AND have security. Some things really are either / or, though. You can have uncomfortable conversations, you can ultimately risk those — OR you can’t talk about how to improve the human condition.

You CAN however, have meaningless conversations and meaningless security while trying to square the circle with “government-only” backdoors and “polite” talk about war crimes and corruption.

“We sometimes pretend (or are expected to pretend) that you can solve software freedom problems without uncomfortable conversations — the same way politicians insist you can have backdoors AND have security.”Open Source, at least from 1998 onwards, was intended as a way to talk about the advantages of Free Software without the uncomfortable conversations about freedom.

The ultimate triumph of that brand of Open Source will be if it becomes impossible for society to say anything meaningful about technology, because it is too uncomfortable to confront any of the relevant issues that make the discussion necessary in the first place. If it’s hyperbole to say we are headed in that direction… are we headed the other way? Are Debian Developers and even LibrePlanet attendees MORE free than they used to be to speak? I seriously doubt it. Lots of people do, but they fear the consequences of saying so. That’s a culture of fear and frankly, strictly-enforced stupidity.

But that’s okay, really! Because you can still say it’s all SUPER-NEAT! At least until THAT offends somebody. We are creating a concept of a model citizen who is the absolutely worst sort of (anti-)intellectual coward. If we could talk about history (can’t talk about history, war would only come up when we started explaining propaganda…) we could tell you what a grand error that truly is. Loose lips may sink ships, but zipped lips destroy entire nations.

“You CAN however, have meaningless conversations and meaningless security while trying to square the circle with “government-only” backdoors and “polite” talk about war crimes and corruption.”This all certainly makes it impossible to talk about Free Software (but only bit-by-bit, so people are still talking about it — and they’re still getting silenced over increasingly ridiculous things as well) but it also strips people of their humanity. Mass censorship is invariably a class war tactic; censorship is always foisted more fully on the poor and the weak than the rich and powerful, who own 90% of the media for crying out loud. And you’re going to let them dictate the other 10% of what’s said in public as well? Whose side do you think you’re on?!

“Mass censorship is invariably a class war tactic; censorship is always foisted more fully on the poor and the weak than the rich and powerful, who own 90% of the media for crying out loud.”Also, should we be able to shoot at drones if they can shoot at us? OOPS, who am I kidding?! We aren’t forbidden from discussing that per se, but we certainly can’t have that as a conversation. It brings up too many uncomfortable things. Better to just let them shoot at us, then! That’s certainly less offensive.

Good luck, Humanity.

Licence: Creative Commons CC0 1.0 (public domain)

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