Thinking about starting a new blog for a new life.

16 Feb

This Sunday I will achieve a goal I’ve had for ten years: I will escape the United States and move to another country. For five of those years GodlessPaladin has been my digital companion and identity. It’s been witness to my many changes and evolution as a person. It’s seen my interests wax and wane, relationships come and go, and philosophical positions mutate. There have been periods where I passionately posted many times a week and dry spells brought on by environmentally triggered depression.

As I look back at who I was when I started GodlessPaladin, I see that I am both very different and very much the same person. I’m still passionate about atheism, religion, politics, and feminism, but the specifics of such passions have shifted. Atheism, religion, and feminism, while still important to me, have taken a more muted roll in my life as of late. My politics have shifted from that of bleeding heart progressive to cynical anarchist. While still interested in gaming, I hardly have the time as of late. My passions for medieval history, once the focal point of my life, have receded to that of passive interest. In their place I’ve developed a new interest: technology and how it is used in the interactions between people and society’s power structures.

While the GodlessPaladin will always be a part of me and my past, I don’t feel that it accurately portrays how I see myself today and who I want to become. As such, I want to start a new blog to mark this milestone in my life, and to record my experiences moving forward.

For the past few days I’ve been thinking about what I wanted the blog to focus on. Many of my friends and coworkers have asked about a travel blog to document my move to another country. I like this idea, but I also want a place to talk about other things that are important to me like anarchism and technology. It would be odd to talk about my move as if it existed in a vacuum. There are reasons to *why* I am moving, and many of them are political. I was hesitant at first to mix a travel blog with a political blog, but then I remembered that I can’t let what other people think bother me. I often feel alone in the world. I don’t know too many other people who have the same views on things as me. I’m on the defensive for the vast majority of my interactions with other people. I’m sure the fatigue of long term “siege mentality” has an affect on my outlook on life. As much as it hurts, however, deep down inside I feel that this isolation is my compass. When the whole world tells me I’m wrong, when I passionately believe I’m right, I feel as if I’m on the correct path. It’s when I find myself agreeing with everyone that I become suspicious.

And so I will mix travel and politics with my new blog, just as I’ve mixed everything here. It’ll be Me v2.0. If friends, family, and former coworkers find my politics unsettling, then they don’t need to visit those pages, or come to my blog. It exists first and foremost for me.

The trouble is, I’m having a hard time coming up with a good name. I feel it’s important. I’m choosing a new public internet identity. I want a name that means something to me, something that’s relevant to who I am, who I want to become, and what I believe in. GodlessPaladin was perfect for who I was five years ago.

I don’t know what I want to be known as in the future. Perhaps that’s appropriate because a lot of my move is about figuring out who I am in the first place.

 

You can’t wear a helmet during protests

2 Feb

This ties into my previous post on the truth behind the facade.

Whenever I hear about someone trying to legally affect any meaningful change on their government, I think about how you can’t wear helmets during protests.

Why can’t you wear helmets at protests? Because it hinders the police beating the shit out of you.

Seriously. That’s the truth of it. It’s illegal to wear helmets or gas masks or anything else that might make it more difficult for the government to exercise their power [violence] on you. It baffles me how people continue to be unable to make this connection.

In our society we are raised to believe “laws” and “what is right” are synonymous. We start small: It is wrong to steal. It is against the law to steal. It is wrong to destroy other people’s things. It is against the law to destroy other people’s things. It is wrong to kill. It is against the law to kill.  From there we extrapolate the inverse of this relationship “something is illegal because it is wrong” onto more complex interactions in life. It is here where the relationship begins to break down. Is it morally wrong for an adult to do drugs in their own home if they aren’t harming anyone? Your answer to that question may differ based on your own personal values, but currently in many countries recreational drug use is illegal. He’s another example but from a different culture that hopefully expose you to the possibility of your own cultural bias in making moral/legal decisions: Is it wrong for women to drive cars if it is illegal for them to drive cars? If you are a westerner you might think this absurd, but someone in Saudi Arabia might think it’s as perfectly normal as “it is wrong to steal therefore it is illegal to steal.”

The point is: what is illegal and what is wrong are not always the same thing. It’s a very simplistic and childish mindset to see the world in this black and white “daddy said the rules are X and so those are what’s right and wrong.”

Back to helmets.

I think it is innately absurd when people overly concern themselves with the laws of their governments with regards to affecting change on those governments. It is impossible to “legally” overthrow your government within the legal framework of that government. (And I’m not talking about elections. I’m talking about real, systemic change.)

Governments are living entities of a sort and like all living entities they have a tendency towards self-preservation. Any ruling class that did not make it difficult for another class to come and overthrow them would not be around for long. Naturally then, governments make overthrowing the government illegal, along with anything else that may lead to inhibiting their ability to stay in control. This ranges from acts as grand as blowing up parliament to acts as small as wearing a helmet during a protest. The scale is drastically different, but they both are aimed at inhibiting the government’s ability to exercise control.

A few days ago the BBC published a story discussing a future in where it would be possible for police to remotely disable a person’s car. Many people immediately suggested that they could simply remove the remote control device from their vehicles to bypass the government’s ability to remotely disable their cars, but removal of this device would certainly be made illegal. Why? For the same reason it’s illegal to wear helmets at protests: It would inhibit the police [and by extension: the government] from exercising control over you.

Undoubtedly the implementation of all these devices in cars would be billed as “for the purpose of stopping criminals.” This is the favorite reasoning for all government power grabs as it is the easiest and most reassuring thing for the populace to swallow. “They’re doing it to protect us from criminals!”

But that begs the question “who are the criminals?”

I believe the general public, when asked “who are the criminals” would conjure up cartoon images of “bad guys” with ski masks stealing money from a bank. Our media in our society encourages this myopic view of crime, at least in the way it portrays “criminal” activity in news and film. Thus the idea of the government wanting increased control in order to “stop criminals” doesn’t seem so dangerous to your average citizen.

But what if the definition of “criminals” was not just limited to people in ski masks stealing from banks? What if that definition was expanded to include people who disagreed with the government? What if that definition was expanded to include protesters and political dissidents? Suddenly the government isn’t using this increased control to protect the people, but to protect itself. This is most evident in laws like those that make it illegal to wear helmets during protests. Surely it would be in the public interest for people to be physically safe while exercising their rights to free speech, free assembly, and demanding a regress for grievances, but the law isn’t about the public good. It never has been. That’s the facade. That’s the lie. The law is about the government’s good and what’s best for making sure the government is able to exercise complete control as uninhibited as possible.

So when I hear people discussing how to change the government within the legal framework set up by that very same government, I can’t help but think of helmets.

You want stronger whistle-blower protection measures? You want to end mass surveillance? You want to end human rights abuses and limit the ability of the government to exercise its power?

It’s not going to happen.

Not legally at least.

Why?

The same reason why you can’t wear a helmet to a protest.

The facade on top of the truth

29 Jan

“Honne and Tatemae are Japanese words that describe the contrast between a person’s true feelings and desires (honne) and the behavior and opinions one displays in public (tatemae). See also: Facade.”

Perhaps I’m just tactless or socially inept but I can’t stand when people put up facades. If you feel a particular way about something, just say it and don’t waste my time. I hate trying to decipher the true meaning behind what people say or how they act. Perhaps one of the most common everyday areas where this can be seen is in dating.

Dating or “the game” is all about honne and tatemae and figuring out what the other person thinks. Do they like me? Do they not like me? Are they attracted to me or no? I don’t want to appear too eager or disinterested. I want to appear cool, calm, and confident. Will they go home with me tonight? How can I find out without offending them? How can I say things without saying them?

I hate all that shit. It might be fun for some, but it’s a giant waste of time from my perspective. I wish people would be upfront and forward about what they want. “I think you’re cool. Let’s bang.” Life would be so much easier and less stressful if people were honest about their feelings, but we’re not because we’re either afraid of rejection, afraid of hurting someone else, or hiding something.

A girl may not be interested in you because she finds you physically unattractive. Instead of just coming out and saying “I find you unattractive” she may try let you know in other, less painful ways, that she is not interested in you. Nonetheless, these less painful ways don’t change the fact that she is ultimately not interested in you.

I’m using social interactions and dating as an example to try and elucidate the following:

Ultimately the there is a truth. Truth can often be uncomfortable. We try to cover up this uncomfortable truth with facades and niceties. All those facades and niceties might make this truth more palatable, but in the end it does not alter the ultimate reality of that truth.

This applies to politics too.

I think a lot of my worldview and cynicism comes from the fact that I am always trying to look past the  political facades. I don’t care to debate what this politician or that politician said. What I care about is what is the ultimate truth behind all of it. I care about raw power and how that power is exercised. Where is the money going? Who benefits from how things are? Who is really calling the shots?

Politicians are masters of facades. They will spin something any way they feel they need to in order to get the public to swallow it. They’ll pass a bill letting companies dump toxic waste in rivers and call it the “clean water act.” They’ll let unemployment benefits expire for millions of Americans and stop counting them as unemployed and then turn around and say “Look! Unemployment is down! The economy is getting better!” Perception management (facades) is the name of the game. This doesn’t change the political truth that they don’t give a fuck about the unemployed or the environment.

What infuriates me is how most people don’t want to talk about the political truths. It makes them uncomfortable. They like living in the pretend land of perception management. They’re fine staying within the confines of a debate framed by the politicians. They’ll happily debate who should store all the data the government is collecting on its citizens but they won’t touch the issue of the legality and ethics of collecting that data in the first place! The raw political truth from those in power is clear: “We are going to spy on everything everyone does for whatever purpose we want and there isn’t a goddamn thing you can do about it.” What worse, people will accept this as long as the government couches it in a comfortable way. “We’re protecting you from terrorism!” is the facade when what they’re really doing is targeting everyone to stifle dissent.

Here’s a perfect example of what I’m talking about in the wild:

An independent review board found that the NSA’s bulk phone data collection program was illegal and ineffective.

“We have not identified a single instance involving a threat to the United States in which the telephone records program made a concrete difference in the outcome of a counterterrorism investigation…”

That completely destroys any argument a politician might make about continuing the program to fight terrorism, and yet the program is being continued anyways. Why? Why is it being continued even though it has been shown to be completely useless at stopping terrorism.

Because it isn’t about stopping terrorism.

That is the facade. The real truth behind that facade is that it is an excellent program for keeping tabs on your own citizens. But nobody wants to talk about that! It’s fucking infuriating! No body wants to deal with the uncomfortable truth that we live under a power hungry Orwellian government. That’s too ugly and not polite. It’s maddening!

I’ve said it before on here, but another uncomfortable truth about or society is that all government power extends from violence. People look at me funny when I say this. Rule by violence sounds so barbaric and brutish, but that’s the truth of it. We live in a world where violence is power. We cover it up with layers and layers of facades and niceties like a judicial system, lawyers, tickets and all the other facets of a bureaucracy, but at the end of the line there’s a man with a gun and the threat of violence if you do not obey.

I stopped wanting to debate politics with people when I realized they weren’t interested in talking about the real fundamental flaws in our society. It’s the same reason I stopped debating the particulars of religion with people when they can’t reasonably demonstrate that their god exists in the first place. Transubstantiation vs consubstantiation is a pointless debate when the god the whole religion revolves around doesn’t even exist! But that’s all people want to talk about, that’s all media outlets want to cover: this artificial debate about non-fundamental issues.

Why? I think people are afraid to talk about the real structural issues with our society. I think people are afraid to talk about why we allow governments to exist where being a megalomaniac psychopath is almost a pre-requisite for holding office. I think they’re terrified that the whole system of society might not work. Everyone is so deeply, so inextricably entangled and dependent on society that any thought of it being broken is too much to bear. I think that’s why anarchism is seen as being so dangerous. Anyone who takes a step back and says “You know, maybe this isn’t the best way for human beings to live” is dangerous and needs to be stopped at all costs! I think there are some deeper philosophical issues at play here. Issues revolving around man’s fear of freedom, fear of being alone in the universe, fear of being responsible for his own decisions and actions. People are willing to cling to a broken and horrible system because it gives them a sense of stability. It gives them walls and boundaries to operate in where they can derive meaning. I don’t need it for the same reason I don’t need some external god to give my life meaning and validation. I’m brave enough to find those things on my own.

I can’t fault people entirely though. They’re born into a society that encourages dependency. They need the government to protect them, they need religion to save them from themselves; it’s constantly drilled into them from birth. If you comply and go with the flow you’ll be looked after. Everything will be alright. You won’t have freedom or independence, but you’ll be warm, fed, and safe. At least that’s what society promises. And so people continue living within this facade, debating the finer points of frivolous issues. Meanwhile  really horrible political truths continue to exist and people who attempt to bring attention to them are denounced as  crazy radicals.

Auf Wiedersehen Amerika, hallo Berlin!

25 Jan

This morning I put in my two weeks at what has so far been the most fun and best paying job of my life. I’m quitting to pursue a decade long dream of becoming an ex-pat and exploring the world. I’m moving to Berlin, Germany in the end of February.

I’ve never been there and I know nobody. To be honest with you, I sway between stressed and terrified. I always thought I would be thrilled. I always imagined I would experience this incredible sensation of freedom and relief as the plane took of and I escaped the US. Who knows, maybe I will feel something like that, but lately I’ve been too busy to think about it.

I’ve been planning this move for months. One night I just got the idea in my head “I should go to Berlin” and I started planning. I’ve been wanting to move out of the country for ten years now. I remember deciding to do this when I was just sixteen. Over the course of that decade I’ve swung back and forth on what country to move to. At one point I had a wall in my first apartment covered in paper, forming a giant spreadsheet of sorts, weighing the pros and cons of each possible country. The top few were always Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Germany. Canada, Australia, and New Zealand were appealing because of the lack of a language barrier, but they were either extremely far away and remote feeling, or America lite.

The language barrier has always scared me. I’m terrible at languages. I was always a C student in German and I took it for several years in school. It’s the biggest obstacle for my move. I hired one of the local university German professors as a personal tutor and I’ve been seeing him twice a week. Outside of that I’ve been listening to podcasts auf Deutsch, and working on duolingo.com.

I want to study Computer Science or some other technical field. Since my BA is in history, I can’t jump from the humanities to the sciences, so a master’s program is out of the question. I’ve got to start on a second degree. The thing is, all the undergrad degree programs are taught in German. I’m aiming to start in the winter semester at the Hochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft, but I need to get my Germany up to B2 to apply. To that end, I’m moving in February to find a place to live and start language school classes in March. I’m hoping I can get to B2 level by May.

This whole thing is a mad race. There are so many things I need to do in specific order, with limited time, or else this whole thing falls apart and I’ll be forced to come back to the states penniless and unemployed. I’d rather die.

The level of planning and research that I’ve put into this trip is absurd, and yet I still feel unprepared.

I want to move to Berlin. Ok, what are the visa requirements? Well what visa do you want to try and get? There are several with different requirements. What are the requirements? How do I fufill them? What forums do I need? Do I have enough time to get these forums? Do I have enough money? How do I open a German bank account? How do I get health care? How do I get a phone number? What do I need to rent a room? How do I rent a room? Where can I find a room? How am I going to get around? How much is food going to cost? When do I need to apply to the language school? What do I need to apply? When do classes start and end? What are the deadlines to apply? The list goes on and on and on.

I’ve spent hours researching all of these questions. Different rules apply to different nationalities and it makes the whole thing confusing. The confusion is exacerbated by my unconventional track: I’m not applying to a master’s program and I don’t have a job lined up paying more than 35,000 euros a year. I explained all of this to my mother and she wondered why it seems easier for refugees from third world countries to move to Germany than for me, someone who has a college degree and work experience in a technical field.

Anyways, I’m terrified. A lot of my fear comes from internal confidence issues revolving around manhood. I’ve never really felt “like a man.” Whatever that means. I guess it comes from being 5’6, overweight, and a bit of a nice guy push over my whole life. The whole experience with my ex fiance going out and sleeping with all those guys was also extremely emasculating. I’ve never had much physical presence and I’ve never been much of a magnet for women. I’m hoping to find my confidence by forcing myself out of my comfort zone and throwing myself into an entirely new and scary situation. Perhaps then, once I survive, I will feel more self-confident, more like a man.

I’ve been telling people that I’m trying not to focus on the fact that I’m quitting my job, leaving my family, and moving to a city on another continent that I’ve never been to before. It’s…actually kind of badass when I think about it, but it’s also really scary. It’s a huge move and a huge life decision.

A lot of this decision has to do with existential issues for me.

It is so easy to be trapped in the daily routine of just living. Get up, go to work, work out, cook dinner, mess around on the computer, see friends for a drink, go to bed, repeat daily with slight variations.

If while standing in front of the copier machine at work, you stop and contemplate the temporary nature of your existence while the machine hums along copying pages, society as we know it just seems absurd! Here I am, the clock is ticking, and I’m standing in an office doing something I’m not passionate about. What the hell am I doing?!

But it’s comfortable! It’s sooooo comfortable and safe. But it’s death. Ever since I decided that I was just going to do it and move, I’ve become acutely aware of all the little things that in American society that, when combined, act to keep us in our mental cages. Trying to escape is like tying to walk underwater. It might not be very forceful, but there is just so much little resistance that it slows you and most people just don’t try to fight it and they drown. They live safe, comfortable, nonthreatening lives and die. Given how much of human history was spent living dangerous and precarious lives where physical harm and starvation was just a misstep away, perhaps there is something to be said for those safe lives the majority of middle class Americans live, but nonetheless I see it as inherently dehumanizing and fatal.

What I’ve come to understand about freedom is that freedom, real freedom, is to have nothing. The moment you have something, you have something to lose, and thus your choices are not entirely free. It’s an ugly paradox: live free with little to nothing, a step away from death, or exist with physical comforts and the illusion of security, but be mentally and spiritually dead. It’s in that small space between having nothing and death that freedom exists.

Another thing that I’ve come to experience during this whole period is just how difficult and scary it actually is to follow your dreams. I hate that phrase, “follow your dreams.” It just sounds so cheesy, so Disney. It’s like a nice, polite, comfortable little platitude everyone swallows; like the message you’re hit over the head with in a children’s movie, or some tacky piece of wall art middle aged moms buy at craft stores to hang in their homes. It’s so cliche, the real consequences are abstracted and made not real. It’s scary to seriously “follow your dreams” if there’s a real risk of falling.

And so I try to remind myself that I don’t have a choice. If I stay, I die. Maybe not physically, but mentally and spiritually. If I go and I fail, I’ll die anyways. Either way, ultimately we are all already dead, dying in slow motion. The end result is the same, I just want to try to live a little, even if it means risking speeding things up.

At least I will have lived.

You’re a cow on a farm.

28 Dec

I know that in many parts of the western world, particularly in Europe, the primary role of government is seen as a service provider to its people. People pay taxes and in return the government provides emergency services, infrastructure, schools, healthcare, and looks after public safety.

That concept is similar to the concept taught all US school children, minus the healthcare. The US government, however, is unlike any other western government because it’s a superpower. The fact that the US government is a superpower drastically changes its relationship with its people. Its massive scale simply changes the dynamics in a way that makes it unlike a smaller country in Europe.

The primary aim of the US government is NOT to provide services to its people. The primary aim is to  protect the interests of its shareholders.

Who are the shareholders if not the people?

In American society, money = power. Money = a stake in the game. More money = more shares = more influence.

Someone might attempt to counter argue that voting = power and that despite a rich person having more money than a poor person, they both have one vote. If you seriously still think the act of voting is somehow a check on power, why is it that the income gap is the largest it has ever been? Why is it that government policies all favor helping the rich get richer while the poor get poorer? If there’s more poor people than every before and fewer rich people than ever before, why is it, if as you say they both have 1 vote, that government policies still favor rich people and corporations? It’s because voting is a placebo. You don’t even get to pick the people or things you want to vote for. Those choices are made for you by the establishment to ensure that whatever it is you’re voting on is “safe” to those in power.

But I digress. We just needed to get that out of the way.

Money = power = influence in the government.

The government exists to protect the interests of those with the most influence over it.

But what about the services the government does provide?

The services the government provides to people are the bare minimum needed to keep them working. Healthcare was/is recently a big issue and perfect example of this. The US is one of the only western countries without universal government healthcare. Yes we recently pass “Obamacare” but if you look past all the news headlines and actually read it, you’ll see that it was not the universal healthcare everyone wanted, but rather a trainwreck of “reform” written by the very companies it ostensibly is meant to be reforming. It’s a joke.

Regardless, during the debates, the point of office productivity kept coming up. The cost to the economy of not having healthcare and being unable to pay for being sick was repeatedly brought up as an argument for providing healthcare.

Most Americans don’t understand their role in society, in the government. Their role is of the cow. Their role is to produce milk for the farmer. The farmer is there to ensure the cows are as productive as possible while minimizing costs. And what an elaborate farm it is…

You go to school, you get a job, you go to work, you pay your taxes, you saddle yourself with debt, you pay interest on that debt, you marry, reproduce and put more people into the system. Once in a while you take a vacation to convince yourself that you’re still free. In reality you’re in a cage. You’re the engine of the system; you’re the cow that produces milk for the farmer. The farmer will provide for you only the bare essentials you require to remain productive. Anymore and you’re cutting into his profit margin, any less and he loses money in lost productivity.

 

Moo motherfucker.

Tech illiteracy will enslave the population

23 Dec

“Kids these days are so amazing at using the computer!”

Dwight-Schrute-False

 

It’s popular wisdom that the younger generations are “tech natives” and naturally know how to use technology given that they grew up in a world with that technology. In my experience, this sentiment is usually uttered by people so far removed from technology, that the simplest operation of technology appears to be magic.

The fact is, most people today who appear to “know how to use a computer” can only navigate very specific services and devices. For example: If you ask the average North American teenager or college student, they’d probably be able to show you with ease how to navigate facebook, twitter, instagram, tumblr, reddit, or a smartphone. If you ask them to install a new operating system on their computer, build a computer, write a program, or design a website they’ll stare at you like a deer in the headlights.

They don’t know how to do these things and they’re the “tech natives.” The reality is that they, like most people who use technology, have a nice comfortable bubble of “these are the programs and devices I use daily” and that’s it. They like things simple and predictable. Throw them an error or something unexpected and they’re helpless.

In my short time working in the tech field I’ve been shocked at just how few basic troubleshooting skills people have when it comes to technology. For most of the people I’ve come across, the computer is a magic box and if something doesn’t work, they’re helpless. What I find really interesting is that people don’t usually think this way about their cars.

If they get in their car to go to work in the morning and it doesn’t start, I think most people wouldn’t immediately throw up their hands and go “oh no! the magical car is broken!  I have no idea what it could be!” Most people would at least check to see if it has gas, then check to see if the battery was dead. Some of the more advanced drivers would then check other engine factors. The point is, most people would at least investigate to some small degree.

Not so with computers. I think the disconnect is partly due to the fact that, unlike a car, there really aren’t that many moving parts to a computer. If a program stops working, it’s harder to visualize why that program stopped working. As such, most people lack even basic troubleshooting skills when it comes to computers.

I want to preface what I’m about to say with a disclaimer. I am not a microsoft fanboy. I really couldn’t care less if you love or hate microsoft. That being said: I dislike Mac computers.

I say I dislike them not for technical reasons, well maybe a little, but mainly for philosophical reasons. You see, I believe Mac’s popularity is connected with the fact that people are technologically illiterate and just want things to “work.”

“But GP! What’s wrong with just wanting things to work?! For wanting a smooth user experience with little to no technical knowledge required by the user? Doesn’t that democratize technology and enable the lowest common denominator access to that technology?”

Yes, it does open technology up to the lowest common denominator in a way that does not require them to have any technical knowledge, and that’s the problem!

Look, computers aren’t perfect. From time to time you’re going to run into problems that require you to think critically. That’s precisely what Macs (and console gaming for that matter) try to avoid. They try to design a user experience that requires as little thinking as possible on the part of the user.

In a world that is increasingly dependent on technology in everyday life, I can’t help but feel this attitude is reckless and dangerous to society.

You’re creating a generation that is simultaneously dependent on technology and ignorant of the very technology they depend upon. It’s a recipe for a gullible and vulnerable population; which is precisely why there is an incentive for the status quo to perpetuate this trend.

Technology is a very potent force for change, yet if the population can’t interact with that technology outside of a specific set of regulated and confined relations, then that technology loses all potential as a change agent.

At the end of the book “Cypherpunks” Jullian Assange talks about a future wherein he foresees the only truly “free” people in the world being the people who are technically literate. Sadly, I think he’s right in his prediction of where the world is going. At least in my experience as a help-desk technician and systems administrator I’ve seen that most people not only lack basic technical and troubleshooting skills, but are actively hostile to the notion of acquiring those skills. 

Darwin was famous for is realization that organisms most adaptive to change were the organisms most likely to survive. The technically illiterate people who happily consume no-thinking required products are not only refusing to adapt to a technical world, they’re content to stay ignorant in exchange for ease of use and comfort. They’re too short-sighted to see that there is a price for ignorance: freedom.

 

An introduction to the fight for the internet and humanity’s fate.

22 Nov

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”

― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

What if you could fight a war without the need for armies and large scale military operations? What if you could fight these wars proactively, before your enemy even attacks? What if you were able to identify potential enemies and neutralize them before they even organized? What if you were able to achieve near complete situational awareness, not just on the scale of your immediate surroundings, but on the scale of entire nation states? What if your definition of “enemy” was not limited to foreign agents but anyone who questions your total dominance?

What if your definition of enemy included your own citizens?

What if there was no one to stop you?

This is the situation humanity now faces with the US Government and technology.

Back in the days of knights and archers, castles were the primary force multipliers. A well-built and well situated castle would allow a small garrison of soldiers to fend off a much larger foe. The castle allowed for efficient and targeted use of force. Today intelligence is the ultimate force multiplier. The better your intelligence is on a target, the more efficiently you can apply targeted force. Just as the atomic bomb represented a paradigm shift in conventional warfare, so does the internet represent a paradigm shift in surveillance and intelligence gathering.

A government’s power rests on its ability to use violence to enforce its will. Note that I said “power” and not “legitimacy.” People sometimes confuse the two and mistakenly believe a government gets its power from the people when in fact it only gets its legitimacy from the people; but what does legitimacy matter when you have the power to eliminate those who say you’re illegitimate?

A government’s power in an operational theater (domestic or foreign) is limited by how quickly and effectively it can exert organized violence, usually through either a military or law enforcement.

At the time the Bill of Rights was drafted the technology was such that the exercising of power usually took the form of infantrymen with muzzle-loading muskets. The founding fathers understood the relationship between the ability to exercise violence and power. England had just attempted to exercise its power through violence on the colonies; hence why they codified into law a people’s right to bear arms. A populace without the final recourse of violence is a populace without the final say. To take away that populace’s ability to check government power (violence) with their own power (violence) is to take away all their power. They are then made subservient and can only hope that those with the power will consent to changes if only the populace asks nicely enough.

redcoats

The problem we face now is that government’s ability to exercise violence has vastly outstripped the populace’s ability to check that violence.  Instead of muzzle-loading muskets, we now have flying robots that kill people, including American citizens without trial.

drones

A side note on the accountability of government and the false dichotomy of liberal/conservative with regards to this issue:

This problem transcends the liberal/conservative paradigm everyone is used to. This is not a liberal or conservative issue. Liberal vs conservative is a false dichotomy encouraged by those in power to distract you from the fact that you have no rights and no real say over what the government does. No matter who you vote for, the government always wins. If voting actually changed anything it’d be illegal.
Furthermore, it’s a fallacy to believe the government is ultimately subject to its own laws. It writes the laws. Trying to defend your “rights” within the US legal system is like playing a football game against a team that wrote the rules of the game and can alter or ignore those rules at will.  The fact that the president can and has extrajudicially executed American citizens without trial is a recent example of the government’s immunity to its own laws. This attitude is nothing new. Nixon stated “When the president does it, it’s not illegal.” Well when the government does something, it’s not illegal. Any thinking person knows that just because something is legal or illegal doesn’t make it just or unjust.
(Possible videos of interest: Judge Napolitano was fired from Fox News for this 5 minute speech he gave pointing these facts out. The late standup comedian George Carlin explains here how “rights” are a myth. Recently making a lot of waves, Russell Brand explains in an interview why the current system is impervious to “approved” political outlets like voting.)

How does all this violence and politics relate to the internet?

Technology doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s important to understand the context of what you’re up against as a person who wishes to maintain their rights to privacy and personal liberty.

The internet is the force multiplier, like a castle, but is the most powerful force multiplier ever constructed. With modern surveillance techniques the government, who is effectively answerable to no one, can record practically everything you do: Where you go online, what you buy with your credit cards, who you call with your cell phone, even where you travel. The CIA is even preparing to spy on you with your home appliances.

How do they do this?

The key concept is what’s called “Data linking.” Through programs like PRISM, SIGINT, and BULLRUN, the government will record as much information about you as they can. Often they will ask companies like Verizon and Google to hand over all the information they have on you. If the company refuses, which they rarely do, the government just hacks the company and takes it. They then store this data in centers like the Utah Data Center, a $1.5 Billion dollar facility built specifically to house 100 years’ worth of data on everyone on the planet.  They then use all this data on you, credit card purchases, who you messaged on facebook, cell phone text messages, phone calls, GPS location, etc to create a matrix of dots. Each dot is a point of data. Jacob Appelbaum, a security research, privacy advocate, and member of the TOR anonymity project gives a great example of this during a digital anti-repression talk. Here’s the part where he introduces the concept of data-linking: 5:56-8:23

To watch the whole talk, and you really should if you want to understand what you’re up against, you can start from the beginning here.

They’re doing this to protect us from terrorists, plus, I’ve got nothing to hide!

“I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”

The government will often use “we’re protecting you” as an excuse for power grabs. It could be something as simple as the mayor of NYC attempting to ban big sodas “for your protection” to something as massive as invalidating the 4th Amendment with the “Patriot” Act and super-secret FISA courts.

In reality, the government is protecting itself.  In addition to “we’re protecting you from terrorists”, you will often hear “we’re protecting the children!” as an excuse to take away your liberties.  Think of all the cries for repelling the 2nd amendment after the Sandy Hook shootings.  As if disarming an entire populace would somehow make people safe against lone shooters. Another example: UK prime minister David Cameron implemented a nation-wide ban on internet pornography. Starting in 2014, all new broadband accounts will come with mandatory pornography filters. “To protect the children.” Do you think pornography is the only thing these filters will be searching? (Hint: The answer’s NO.)

Do not be surprised if you hear the government label people who wish to maintain their right to privacy as criminals, terrorists and peddlers of child pornography. Just like guns, there will always be a few people who use a technology for unjust purposes, but this does not warrant attempting block everyone’s access to that technology. Those who still want to take a technology away from everyone more often than not have their own unjust motives for doing so.

But the government would never abuse this power and target political adversaries…right?

It’s the classic scenario: Would you do something you knew was wrong if you knew you wouldn’t be caught and punished? I would hazard to guess that most average people would say no, but then again average people aren’t the type of people to get themselves in positions of power like politicians, generals, and spies.

It is a well-known fact that those people who most want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it… anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job. ~Douglas Adams

Think about it. You’re the government. You are god. No one will punish you except yourself, and that’s not about to happen any time soon. You have this secret power to spy on anyone in the world. The public, hell even most of congress, doesn’t know about your secret abilities. If they do, you’ll pull the “terrorism” card or the “child pornography” card. Who wants to be labeled as “pro-terrorist child rapists?”

Do you do it?

OF COURSE YOU FUCKING DO IT! Are you serious? Every government ever has always sought to spy on their political adversaries. It’s like statism 101! The US government is no exception and has a long and rich history of spying on civil rights leaders, students, activists, anyone that didn’t fit with the party in power. Abusing power isn’t reserved for just political adversaries, the employees at the NSA even used their illegal powers to spy on spouses and ex-lovers!

What’s worse, all this spying has not provided any tangible benefits! In June of 2013, NSA director Keith Alexander sat in front of congress and flat out asserted that they had stopped 54 terrorist attacks as a result of illegally and unethically spying on 300 million Americans (and the rest of the world).

But guess what… he was lying.

Last month Alexander admitted as much. Instead of 54, Alexander said they had stopped “only perhaps one or two.”

Let me tell you a little story about a man arrested for drinking and driving. The officer pulled him over and asked him how many drinks he had that night. When the man replied “one or two” the office asked him to take a breathalyzer test and found that he was over the limit. When the man asked the office how he knew that he had been drinking heavily the office responded with “If you had had only two beers you would have remembered exactly how many you had.”

And that’s ladies and gentlemen yet another reason why the NSA (and Keith Alexander) is full of shit.

What are the risks?

Besides living in an Orwellian police state world (the internet knows no national boundaries and nor does their spying) where you automatically suspect and guilty until proven innocent, they’ll break the internet.

Most people don’t understand how the internet works. They get on a computer and it’s just there. Sadly, a lot of people in government don’t understand how the internet works either. As a result, they’re doing things that will destroy the internet on a fundamental level. Their short-sided goals of cracking down on political dissidents has led them to break common encryption methods used for things like whenever you purchase something from amazon with your credit card. They’ve also leaned on software developers to put back-doors (allowing the NSA to spy and steal information) into various programs and websites. (Most notably, Skype and Facebook)

One of the (many) big issues with this is that the government is not the only one who will be able to take advantage of these back doors and broken encryption. They’re basically smashing down the door to your house, ransacking the place to try and incriminate you, then leaving. Meanwhile the door to your house is still smashed in and anybody can just walk right in when they find that opening. When they break the ability to encrypt transactions online, they break the trust people have in online commerce. Imagine if nobody felt safe buying anything online anymore. What would that do to the world economy? According to the Wall Street Journal, Americans, just Americans alone, are projected to spend $327 BILLION online by 2016. That’s just Americans. Can you imagine what the total figure is for that plus the rest of the world? Now imagine what would happen if that disappeared? What would happen to the world’s economy? It would fucking crash in a catastrophic fashion. There is a serious threat now of Balkanization of the internet. When Snowden revealed just how massive the NSA’s spying is, countries started talking about segmenting themselves off from the internet. This will undermine the internet’s core concept: inter-connectivity. Can you imagine a country by country internet?

The internet is arguably the most amazing technological advancement in the history of humanity. The ability to communicate and share ideas instantaneously has produce a Cambrian explosion like advancement in science, commerce, and culture. There has never been anything like it. Unfortunately, there’s now a real risk that it will die. If it does die, die too does humanity’s chance to escape the bonds of its past and any hope for a brighter future. The fight for the fate of the internet is really a fight for the fate of humanity. It is perhaps the most important fight in human history.

So what can you do?

I hope you know by now that writing letters, calling your representatives, marching around in the cold with signs, and voting (all the socially “approved” outlets) are futile. They’re an illusion to make you feel like you’re accomplishing something when in fact you’re not. Instead the only thing you’re accomplishing is venting your frustration in a sterilized (non-violent) way. As far as the government is concerned, you can do that all day. What really matters to them is that you don’t challenge their power with your own.

So if the approved outlets are pointless and you’re unable to out-violence the government, what can you do to protect yourself from the monster of a surveillance state we’ve created? What will save us?

sacred_heart_of_jesus

End to End Encryption

Our only hope for salvation lies in end to end encryption of all internet traffic. Why? Remember how all government power rests on violence?

No amount of violence can solve a math problem. ~ Jacob Appelbaum

End to end encryption is based off of a complex math problem. (If you’d like to see a really clever and easy to understand explanation of encryption, check this video out.) Whenever you communicate with someone over the internet (or go anywhere for that example), unless you’re using end to end encryption to encrypt all your traffic, you’re basically having the equivalent of unprotected sex with the internet. You’re not anonymous and it is easy for someone, especially an oppressive government, to monitor your activity. Pretty Good Privacy was one of the first publicly available encryption methods. (Funnily enough, the US Government tried to throw it’s creator in prison for spreading a technology that would prevent them from spying on people.)

In addition to end to end encryption, another source in combating oppressive regimes online is to utilize open-source software. What’s open source software? It’s software that is created by anyone who releases the source code of the program for everyone to see. For example: A private company might write a program and sell it. They don’t want to give the program away for free, so they don’t show the source code. This way you have no idea what else is hidden in the program. It’s possible for governments and other entities to hide things inside the program that do things other than what the program is being sold to do.

Open-source, however, has the source code out there for all to see. This actually increases security as everyone can look to see if something bad is hidden in the program. It also opens the program up to peer review. People can often contribute to an open-source project and improve upon it, whereas a close-sourced project is restricted only to the people who originally wrote it.

Lastly, you can use some tools to help obscure your identity online. TOR is a browser, much like firefox or google chrome, that lets you surf around the web. TOR, however, obscures your traffic by sending it through multiple different paths before coming back to you. In addition, you can also use a VPN service that will act like a middle man. Say you want to go to a website, but you don’t want someone watching your internet traffic to see that you’re going to that website. If you use a VPN, the VPN provider will go to that website for you, and then forward everything to your computer. This way someone watching will only see the VPN provider going to that website and not who’s on the other end looking at it. An example of a VPN provider is Private Internet Access.

Encryption is so dangerous to the government precisely because it renders them powerless. You can bet your ass they’re going to do everything they can to demonize encryption, anonymity, and attempt to prevent its wide-scale adoption. It’s for precisely this reason that it’s so important to implement and popularize security measures like this. The fate of humanity depends upon it.

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