Free speech, censorship and the Oxford Union

I was invited last year to speak at the Oxford Union, and the event, held last February, perfectly illustrates the current faux debate between hate speech and free speech. The Oxford Union is the self-proclaimed “world’s most prestigious debating society” and “last bastion of free speech” and it rides on a who’s who list of past speakers such as the Dalai Lama, Mother Theresa, Malcolm X, Winston Churchill and Albert Einstein. Membership is open only to Oxford students, and lifetime membership includes a very large selection of the world’s politicians and media moguls. Past Union presidents who went on to lead states include Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan, and UK Prime Ministers Heath, Asquith and Gladstone. The current UK cabinet has more former presidents of the Oxford Union than it has minority ethnicities. This platform is as far as you can get from the egalitarian access of social media.

The Oxford Union serves as a safe space where powerful men who do horrible things can go to speak and be appreciated. Despite the protestations that a platform at Oxford Union is meant to allow unpopular views to be challenged, it doesn’t happen. Speakers ranging from O.J. Simpson after his trial to Oswald Mosley, who led the UK Fascist Party until it was banned in 1940, are welcomed on their own terms. This is the free speech that Boris Johnson (former Oxford Union president) and Jacob Rees-Mogg (current Oxford Union trustee and son of former Oxford Union president) are fighting for. The UK has recently passed a law against Union members or other students exercising their own free speech and expressing opinions on who comes to speak at their club, threatening fines against universities who refuse platforms to those assumed to have a right to one. At the same time, UK lawmakers and media have been fighting against free speech access on every more egalitarian platform. The misogynists who upskirt teenagers on the pages of British tabloids deplore the misogyny of social media. The lawmakers who refuse to conduct a competent inquiry into UK child rape cover-ups by politicians imprison accusers instead. The Official Secrets Act, libel and ‘intellectual property’ laws which protect only the powerful, and non-disclosure agreements available only to those who can afford them, ensure a class strata dictates who may and who may not be criticized or offended.

The Oxford Union is the public face of the Bullingdon Club and the Piers Gaveston Society and looks it, but even this last bastion of entitlement is lately feeling pressure to embellish itself with a sprinkling of darker skin and female pronouns. Identity politics provides the branch managers of tyranny. The endless twaddle of Tories and Trumpkins which usually fills Oxford Union term cards is now supplemented with occasional Serena Joys and Gileadian aunts in the name of ‘feminism’ and occasional corrupt politicians for ‘diversity’. Polite demurs from careerist NGOs and journalists paid to politely demur are occasionally presented as ‘balance’. It is in this context that I was invited. For students of a prestigious university, they have no research skills at all.

Diversity of opinion, or even irrefutable facts, are not acceptable to the “world’s most prestigious debating society”. The purified thought bubble surrounding Oxford students welcomes derision against any weaker members of society but does not permit criticism of those in power. I shared a panel with David Shedd, a former CIA operative who also held the posts of Director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency and Deputy Director of U.S. National Intelligence. The entire panel was censored from Oxford Union’s YouTube channel at his order, despite their contractual obligation to publish it there and the prior release forms signed by all involved. “It is ironic that we are censoring a Whistleblowing Panel!!” chirped their bursar, Lindsay Warne. Shedd’s objection was not to anything he said, but what I said – a third-party censorship demand which has been granted and upheld by three successive Oxford Union presidents: Laali Vadlamani, Gui Cavalcanti and Stephen Horvath. Those names will no doubt be found in UK parliament and media in five or ten years, drafting even more draconian laws to protect the powerful against speech.

The speech of tyranny is always upheld by tyrants as free speech. The speech of anyone in opposition to tyranny will always be silenced by every means possible. Harmful speech has never in history meant anything other than speech which offends the powerful and it does not today. From the Malleus Malleficarum through to the upskirting tabloids, media controlled by the powerful has existed to uphold the powerful and persecute, threaten and control the weak. It has never been subjected to censure over this. Indeed, protection of the media has been a fundamental pillar of advocates of free society since media was invented and that only increased with the invention of the Internet as a place to stalk and humiliate women and children. Suddenly, this has changed, and I think I can put a date on when it changed.

In 2012, Gawker (before it was permanently silenced by billionaire Peter Thiel) published a story on Michael Brutsch, aka reddit moderator Violentacrez. In 2012, reddit was a cesspool that reflected the free speech of powerful men at the expense of the human dignity and privacy of anyone weaker, and Violentacrez was its most prolific bottom feeder. In the words of journalist Adrian Chen, “His specialty is distributing images of scantily-clad underage girls, but as Violentacrez he also issued an unending fountain of racism, porn, gore, misogyny, incest, and exotic abominations yet unnamed.” Brutsch moderated hundreds of the most predatory sub-reddits, including Creepshots, Jailbait, Chokeabitch, Beatingwomen, Picsofdeadjailbait and even worse, to the glee of reddit users, who voted the child predator site Jailbait as 2008’s “subreddit of the year”. Four years later (as part of a growing reaction) he was outed by Chen, and reddit exploded in outrage, banning all Gawker links from the traffic generating behemoth. The privacy of a man to anonymously violate the privacy of women and children was itself violated, and the balance of power on the Internet was never the same again.

The Internet become a place where, for the first time since the printing press was invented, women and other marginalized people could fight back and get overwhelming results. It was the place where Pax Dickinson, CTO of Business Insider, lost his job for misogynist tweets and was followed by so many others. It was the place where #takedownjulienblanc first created global awareness of the toxic internet manosphere which has spawned such movements as incels, PUAs, MRAs and more. It was the place where victims of sexual assault have rallied again and again, from the #DelhiGangRape to #paedobritain and #opDeathEaters to #MeToo and #Cuéntalo. And it was the place where the powerful libertarian men who controlled all the international media, academia and speaking forums, first decided that free speech should have limitations. This newly commended censorship is presented as a measure needed to protect ‘the marginalized’ even though it was the powerful and their media who marginalized ‘the marginalized’ in the first place and the censorship is directed solely at the forums accessible to ‘the marginalized’. The new censorship, combined with forced public acceptance of platforms for the powerful, is meant to ensure the continuation of the freedom of speech that powerful people have always enjoyed and more easily enforce immunity from the social consequences of either their speech or their actions.

Does anyone really think the current howls for censorship of social media will include censorship of the NY Times writers excusing incel violence or the Atlantic writers who want women to be hung for exercising bodily autonomy? Social media is the only reason these writers are challenged now – censorship of social media will remove all opposition to them. The business model of Facebook and Google is to enable states and corporations to coerce public opinion for the powerful. Tech CEOs are now being ordered to decide which speech and which people are socially acceptable. Does anyone think billionaire tech CEOs will defy their funders and enablers to defend the powerless or censor the powerful? Powerful men who have sadistically raped, tortured, trafficked and murdered women and children are unironically presenting themselves as victims of a witch hunt. Free speech for victims of powerful men is not a witch hunt. A witch hunt was when powerful men and their exclusive access to media inspired a genocide of up to a million women and indigenous people and terrified community and land caregivers into centuries of silence. Today’s social media campaigns are the accused witches finally fighting back, countering the media which called them all ‘crazy’ with sheer numbers.

All genocides and all bigotry begin with hate speech. Hate speech is countered by open communities and communication, never by one-way powerful platforms and definitely not by state or corporate control and manipulation of dialogue. Nazis and fascists in the street are countered by community rejection, never the states which instigate and profit from hate and division. If there was any doubt that this is conscious state policy, that doubt should be removed by the relentless state and corporate campaigns currently sowing hate and division on social media.  Civility and the institutions of civility were invented to control voices opposing the powerful just as the institutions of justice were invented to control defence against the powerful. It is always the voices of women and the lowest classes that civility demands be kept well-modulated and profanity-free.

Identity politics has played a crucial role in the new fight against egalitarian speech. An endless parade of female pundits have been given bylines and panel seats to insist that social media silences them. Censorship is being marketed with the faces of women and children. Now that we finally have a megaphone, we are told it is more than our weak selves can handle. The women who are acceptable to places like the Oxford Union tell the world that the rest of us can’t handle free speech and must be protected by gatekeeping bastions such as … well, such as the Oxford Union. If “the last bastion of free speech” will censor what I said, they will censor anyone who draws outside the lines. Community and land caregivers will be told they are represented by identitarian tokens parroting the words and agenda of fascists, a rainbow of totalitarians silencing all diversity of views. The next time women feel inclined to accept censorship on the only somewhat egalitarian platforms we have had since the invention of the printing press, remember what you will be left with: corporate media musing whether women should be publicly hung for exercising bodily autonomy or required to provide ‘redistribution of sex’ to men who want to kill them, and representation of us all by Ann Coulter and Marine Le Pen.

Anyone who seeks to represent you will be your tyrant. Your own voice is the only one that can represent your ideas and your ideas are the only part of your voice that matters. When you accept that women and other marginalized people are not capable of defending ourselves on the first platforms where we actually had power, you are accepting an all-powerful, patriarchal, protection racket which has never in history protected women or anyone marginalized from hate. The face of censorship is not women and children. It is Michael Brutsch and Pax Dickinson, Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.

The primary problems with social media today are caused by state and corporate interference and the personality centred structure, not free speech. It is state and corporate funded social media astroturfing campaigns, libel laws, ‘intellectual property’, non-disclosure agreements, official secrets, state and corporate propaganda, and all other cloaks shielding the powerful which need to be destroyed. Egalitarian access to public platforms must be protected above all, not for identity groups but for every individual voice.

Anyway, this is what you cannot say at “the last bastion of free speech” “the safest space for punching down”. Pay attention, because this is what you will not be able to say anywhere if free speech continues to be restricted to exclusive ‘bastions’.

Here is the current Standing Committee of Oxford Union if you would like to confirm their free speech boundaries for yourself. The presidents (so far) who have supported the censorship are Laali Vadlamani, Gui Cavalcanti and Stephen Horvath. Here is Oxford Union on social media:

https://twitter.com/OxfordUnion

https://www.youtube.com/user/OxfordUnion/videos

https://www.facebook.com/pg/theoxfordunion/posts/?ref=page_internal

https://www.instagram.com/theoxfordunion/

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Transcript of Whistleblowing Panel censored by Oxford Union

This is a transcript and audio of what I said at the Whistleblowing  panel that was censored by the Oxford Union. I was informed by Oxford Union bursar Lindsay Warne that the Standing Committee and then-president Laali Vadlamani had censored the panel in response to a demand from David Shedd and this was confirmed by current Oxford Union president Gui Cavalcanti. All journalists who have inquired about the video have been treated with the utmost disrespect as Warne told me they “owe nothing to journalists”. This is false. The speaker’s contract with the Oxford Union contains the following passage.

“The Union offers a unique combination of tradition and prestige, with our student members constituting an engaged and enthusiastic audience; our events can be tailored to fit almost any format – a speech followed by questions, a prepared Q&A or simply an informal conversation – and last year attracted coverage from the BBC, CNN, New Delhi TV, Russia Today (RT), and most major British national newspapers and international publications including the New York Times and the Economist. Furthermore, all our events can be professionally filmed for our YouTube channel, which has received over 40 million views since it was relaunched last year.”

The sole benefit being offered to speakers at the Oxford Union (other than the censored Youtube channel) is the labour of journalists. Oxford Union certainly do owe respect and cooperation to journalists, and they owe it to speakers as well. Speakers should know that they will be censored at the ”world’s most prestigious debating society” if they say anything challenging to power, despite this being an obvious breach of the contract they are being offered. Anyone who actually believed the Oxford Union was, as their slogan claims, “the last bastion of free speech”, should see how very easy it is to be censored if you punch up instead of down.

This is a full transcript of my part, for the record and for any journalists who were interested. Open copyright CC BY 4.0, share and use in any way you wish.

Introduce yourself

My name is Heather Marsh. I am an author and I write a great deal about mass collaboration and horizontal governance and I’ve worked for many years as an activist and journalist to amplify voices in urgent need of attention, primarily whistleblowers. I am also a software developer and I’m working on a project called Getgee which is a universal database commons that will help us share, audit and amplify open collaborative information, so that we can participate intelligently in our own governance.

My focus has always been human rights and horizontal governance. Of the human rights atrocities I have worked to expose, a very large number are associated with David Shedd and the organizations and allies he represents. As just one example, I fought for over a decade to achieve justice for my fellow Canadian, Omar Khadr who was abducted at 15 years old, subjected to the most horrific torture at the CIA black site Bagram, then trafficked and tortured for another decade at Guantanamo before enduring a show trial of invented court, invented evidence, invented experts and retroactively applied, invented crimes. The hell this Canadian child went through for 12 years was conducted by the organizations represented by David Shedd. It is deeply uncomfortable for me to be here today, on the same panel as someone whose work has established and worked to normalize ever-increasing drone murders, black site disappearances and torture and I hope it is uncomfortable for all of you as well, and for him. Beware of your contribution to the growing banality of evil lest you yourself become a cog in the machinery of terror.

I am here today because I want to talk about how our structures of power are evolving. There is probably only one thing I have in common with David Shedd and that is that we both want a world without whistleblowers. He wants to crush whistleblowers and I want a world where the caregivers of our communities and land hold institutional power, where everyone’s voice is heard and those who terrorize us all with impunity lose the power to do so.

The opening was some generic question about whistleblowers.

If there is one thing I would like people to take home today it is the definition of whistleblower. There seems to have been an effort lately to equate whistleblowers solely with an elite, western, usually male leaking documents. A few days ago I read an article about a program for whistleblowers in the US intelligence agencies. It was a human resources program for employee grievances. The people they were calling whistleblowers were torturers at Bagram who didn’t like having a female boss or assassins who felt overlooked for promotion. And then, there was a cover full of whistleblowers on TIME magazine this year, but they were called Silence Breakers! What is a Silence Breaker if not a whistle blower? You know, there are no female philosophers because a female philosopher is called a feminist. Apparently we have the same sort of thing happening here, there are no whistleblowers outside of this elite demographic because they are called activists or silence breakers or something.

I have worked with many whistleblowers over many years. I worked with Rohingya activists from 2012 on to help convince the world that they were in fact experiencing a genocide. I have worked with victims of trafficking networks and resource corporations and institutions like prisons and care facilities. Whistleblowers are people like the mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina who fought the silence of the dictatorship in defence of the disappeared, and all the movements like them that have followed in their steps, like Central America’s Caravan of Missing Migrants, Nigeria’s Bring Back Our Girls movement, the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women movement in Canada, the Missing Students activists in Mexico and the people standing up against ICE pogroms in the United States right now. They include labour activists like Kim Jinsuk, a woman who in 2011 stayed up a crane for 309 days to protest the lack of labor rights in South Korea, and Hua Haifeng, who was arrested in China recently for exposing abuses against workers in the factories manufacturing Ivanka Trump’s brand. They include Maria del Rosario Fuentes Rubio, who was murdered for her reporting on Mexican cartels in 2014 and Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was killed by a car bomb in Malta last October for her work exposing organized crime, They include the environment caregivers now being killed at a recorded rate of four a week and increasing. They include Helena Maleno who has been credited with saving the lives of at least 10,000 refugees in the Strait of Gibralter and is now facing imprisonment in Morocco and your own MP Jo Cox who was murdered because of her work in caring for refugees.

Obviously we could do this for days. Whistleblowers come from absolutely every demographic but there is one group that is very over represented and that it is the caregivers of our communities and land standing against the impunity enjoyed by powerful criminals. The media coverage depicting whistleblowers as a fairly elite demographic of western male hackers leaking documents is a little disproportionate.

But those in power do understand where the threat to their impunity is coming from. China arrested five women in 2015 just for distributing pamphlets against sexual harassment. Canada openly identifies First Nations communities and environmentalists as target groups to be monitored for terrorist activity and it is obvious in the terrorist definitions of every country. The definition of terrorism in the five eyes is attempting to influence your community or government, which is also the definition of democracy. Participating in your own governance, alerting your neighbours to what is happening, is defined as terrorism. So this redefinition of whistleblowers as scary non-state actors and hostile intelligence services, this will be used against the women and men who are the community and land caregivers of every nation because these are the number one threat to the corporate mafia that wants immunity from prosecution for their crimes. As soon as laws against whistleblowers are passed they will be used against people accusing MPs of rape or people letting the public know that Trudeau has just turned more lakes into toxic waste dumps for mines or people boycotting Israel or the NRA. It is this groundswell of community and land caregivers, the rising up of 7 and a half billion people participating in their own governance, that are the real threat to corrupt power.

So we need to define whistleblowers properly or we are not going to come up with solutions that will actually meet their needs. A human resources program in the CIA will not help all these people. Even in the case of John Kirakiou, obviously he never should have been imprisoned for pointing out that there was torture at Guantanamo, but everyone in Guantanamo would have and did try to tell us the same thing. It is the people in Guantanamo and every other prison who we should never have allowed to be silenced in the first place and those are the voices we need to make sure we hear.

What do you think the media is missing in their coverage of whistleblowers?

I remembered what I don’t like about the media coverage of whistleblowers. I feel like it is covered in such a personality centred, celebrity focused way that it is like listening to people discussing Harry Styles’ hair. There are important issues to be discussed in the structure of power that allows only some people’s voices to be heard. How can we hear directly from voices which are being silenced? This is something I have been working on for years because it turns out, you can murder millions of people without leaving a paper trail or inspiring an insider whistleblower. How do we make sure we hear all voices? If mining corporations in the Yasuni say indigenous people are just killing each other and it has nothing to do with them, who outside can prove that one way or another? With the Rohingya genocide, ironically the best documentation we could get was from Google maps, which showed villages which had been there earlier and now they were gone. I’ve thought a lot about different solutions for years, like uploading testimony in actionable affidavit format from places like Myanmar or UN peacekeeping camps or anywhere people are silenced and at risk. Like the current Oxfam story. That was absolutely no surprise to anyone who works in human rights, and it is certainly not just Oxfam either. You will find this everywhere you have this same structure of power and secrecy at the top and fear and silencing at the bottom. We’ve seen it in NGO’s, militaries, UN peacekeepers over and over … This is why I am working on a universal database, to try to democratize this access to a megaphone and bring us information from everyone.

It is not new laws we need, we already have so many international laws protecting our human rights, our rights to freedom of expression, our right to knowledge, our rights to not be tortured and murdered, our right to a fair trial, and these are all being ignored. We don’t need to create another witness protection program with the mafia in charge of it. It is our governance that needs to be revamped. We are still governed by a form of democracy created before women or children or indigenous people or labourers were considered persons or part of the demos and before any international networks existed below the level of trade empires.

It’s been almost four hundred years since that awful Cambridge man argued in Patriarcha that an all powerful patriarchal system was the only legitimate form of governance and Robert Filmer was most decisively refuted by Oxford’s own John Locke, who ought to be familiar to anyone from the United States as well, since he was fairly influential in creating the ideology they are supposed to be run by. I did think that western democracies were done with this debate. If you want to live under an all powerful patriarchal form of governance, you move to an absolute monarchy or a dictatorship, not a democracy. Patriarchy and democracy are incompatible. We settled this nearly four hundred years ago. And it is customary for those who uphold this absolute form of secretive tyrannical rule to call people like me anarchists, but if all anarchy means is there are no absolute rulers or centralized authority, then shouldn’t that be a basic tenet of a democracy?

If you do want democracy, it’s not just media that needs to be free. It’s not even just speech. It is knowledge. An uninformed vote is a coerced vote. People without reliable information they can trust will follow ideologies and demagogues blindly and we are seeing more and more of that lately as our access to information and our trust in information is eroded. And when government is conducted in secrecy, the atrocities that have repeated throughout history will happen again, as they always do in the dark. We really don’t need to keep proving this. So we don’t need reactionaries trying to shore up some ancient flailing patriarchy with increasing tyranny and secrecy. We don’t need revolutionaries knocking off figureheads and installing their own messiahs onto the same structure. We need to build a democracy that is right for today, that includes everyone and resists tyranny, and that means democratic access to knowledge and participatory governance.

[At some point another panelist said they liked Obama and I said Obama had paved the road Trump was driving on and pointed out Obama’s intention was not to close Guantanamo but to bring it onto US soil – where ICE detention centres continue to proliferate.]

What do you think motivates whistleblowers to take these risks and why don’t they go through proper channels? I know what you are probably going to say …

Well yes, because the majority of the whistleblowers I deal with don’t have proper channels and they aren’t given any choice over the situation they are in. That is the whole point, they don’t have institutional power and we need institutional power for community and land caregivers and an end to the secrecy and impunity at the top. Because we are told that we need these structures of absolute power and secrecy for our safety, but intelligence agencies are not competent to protect you from ISIS or anyone else. The heads of most of the top intelligence agencies in the US were compromised recently by a 15 year old British boy called Crackas with attitude and he wasn’t hacking, he just guessed his way in. An Australian student just noticed the US military was revealing all their military locations in Syria through the Fitbit app. Australian MP’s just sold a load of Top Secret documents in an old filing cabinet. There are homemade drones taking out military planes that cost more than your health care. They are not competent to keep you safe, but even if they were competent, our safety is not their priority.

I remember in one of the mass shootings in the US, this one involved really tiny kids, and there were two things that really stood out for me about this case. One, the mother was completely blamed for her son’s actions even though she was his first victim. President Obama and the media both left her name off the victim lists as if she was a perpetrator or a non-human. The other thing that struck me was that she was entirely blamed – but she had no community support she could have relied on. This was a single woman, living with an obviously violent and very disturbed adult son, and she had absolutely nowhere to turn for help. How is she supposed to be responsible for something she has no power to stop? And we’ve just seen the same thing happen again in Florida, the students and teachers and community were blamed for not doing enough but they did everything in their power and they were ignored because the politicians are not listening to them. Look at the #ArmMeWith hashtag on social media this week, teachers are asking for books, time, resources, mental health care, a decent adult to child ratio – they are saying they don’t need guns, they need the resources to build community. And the US government is offering guns because that is profit for the only nation they care about, which is the weapons manufacturers and the NRA.

Some people have been really worried in past years about terrorists entering into Europe with refugees and yes, of course, they have. Not nearly as many as some people would like you to believe, because we all have our own homegrown terrorists now, but yes, some have come through camps, and the people in refugee camps will tell you who those people are. Or online communities will tell you. In Canada, we had a man a couple years ago who used to torture kittens to death and upload the videos online. He was reported by most people who saw the videos and they were ignored. Then he went on a gore site – you would think if we have some patriarchal power trying to keep us all safe they must be monitoring gore sites, right? – and he advertised an upcoming murder. He was reported, and the reports were ignored. Then he horrifically murdered someone and uploaded that video. He was reported by so many people. One retired police officer in the US reported him to the RCMP, the FBI and his local sheriff. Everyone ignored all the reports. He took the body out of his own apartment, past the CCTV cameras on his building and street, and put it in a dumpster. Then he took his biometric, smart, Canadian passport, under his own name, which was now all over the international news and on an Interpol warrant, and he boarded an international flight from Canada to France and then to Germany, where he sat in a cyber cafe reading articles about himself until finally a man in the cafe went out and got a police officer to come in and arrest him. Is this blinding incompetence or is our safety maybe not really a great concern for intelligence agencies?

The answer of course is both. They are not competent to keep you safe, but also they aren’t listening. The mothers, the caregivers, the schools, the people online, the people in refugee camps, these people are all ignored. They are listening to corporations like Areva or Shell. Boko Haram took root initially in an area completely overwhelmed by the corruption of Goodluck Jonathan’s government and the devastation brought by Shell and other oil companies. Areas like Mali and Niger were equally devastated by France’s Areva corporation, among others,. The people living on that land were being murdered and left with no means of survival by criminal corporations and complicit government. Again, the lack of power and the extreme abuse of community and land caregivers creates vulnerability to the growth of terrorism. And it is no secret to the intelligence communities that this is the trigger. The minute you hear protests start against Areva, you also start hearing France and the United States talking about growing extremist threat because they know very well that extremism follows backing people into a corner with no way to turn. So again, the solution is to empower the caregivers, listen to them, and end impunity for criminal corporations. If you know corporate policies are going to cause the growth of ideological extremism, maybe change corporate policies before that happens. Protection available only to the highest bidders is not security. Security is strong involved and supportive communities networked with other communities.

Response to David Shedd responding to above by saying “our men and women in uniform” are heroes, invincible, have so much data, etc., etc.

I think if we are going to talk about national security on this panel, we need some context. David Shedd belonged to the most powerful, well-funded, weaponized, international, organized crime syndicate the world has ever seen. Not even counting the other organizations he is affiliated with or those he calls his allies – just looking at the CIA by itself – they are in the business of assassinations, they manage black sites for torture, they work with with local mafias, cartels and militias all over the world, they run operations trafficking weapons, drugs and people all over the world, they have ongoing programs of human experimentation … these are just a few of the things the CIA itself has done, not counting their network of allies. They are part of a vast criminal network that is now planning even greater expansion, more torture, far more disappearances, far more murder. So when these men talk about whistleblowers threatening national security, we need to ask three obvious questions: what is security to them, who is their nation and who are the whistleblowers?

So given that we are dealing with criminals and members of criminal organizations, what they mean by security is immunity from criminal prosecution. And we have seen that. They do not keep us safe, we have plenty of evidence of that, but they certainly do keep themselves safe. The US military bombed an MSF hospital. Can we investigate? No we cannot, they have bulldozed the evidence. They “tortured some folks” and they plan on torturing a lot more, but that’s classified. Jeffrey Epstein is a man in the United States known to have raped and trafficked dozens or hundreds or who knows how many children. The US Attorney General at the time, Alberto Gonzales, said he would have instructed the US Justice Department to “pursue justice without making a political mess”. Epstein’s little black book contains people like Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, Prince Andrew. There is only one way to interpret that directive and that is impunity for anyone above a certain social strata or anyone with blackmail on them. The Pentagon, since 2010, has refused to investigate, at that time it was over 1700 cases, of child abuse media they have found on Pentagon computers. The people in the US are finally starting to talk about all the taxpayer funded NDA’s that protect people in congress against reports of rape and sexual assault. California alone has reportedly paid more than $25 million in the last three years to buy criminal impunity for their politicians. In the UK, you have your own child rape inquiry where UK police have spoken many times of investigations which have a strata they can’t go above – where those above that strata are referred to as the Untouchables, protected by the Official Secrets Act and many other layers of secrecy. Your former Oxford Union president and UK Prime Minister, Ted Heath, how many people came forward and said they were his victims as children, but there was never an investigation during his lifetime.

So security for them means immunity from criminal prosecution, not just for their actions against so-called enemies but against anyone. The current CIA head talks about a bureaucracy that slows down the CIA – that bureaucracy is our human rights and that is how they see our lives – as bureaucracy. If they kill too many of us at once they have to fill out a form. And that slows them down. Pompeo wants ‘agile’ assassins. He wants killers who ‘fail fast and break things’, as if they were writing stupid apps instead of murdering children. He wants ‘disruptive’ terrorism. And their security is the freedom to do this with impunity and in secrecy.

And who is this nation they want security for? The US were supposedly enemies with Syria and allies with Canada when they were abducting Canadians to be tortured in Assad’s prisons. Their allegiances change at the drop of a hat and they all have each other’s secrets anyway. That is the whole point of their industry. The entire supranational intelligence community has access to each other’s secrets – they need security from the rest of us finding out. And their nation is anyone with enough money to pay them, corporations or states. You had Erik Prince speaking here a while back, the crown prince of mercenary contractors. He made his fortune at the top ranks of US military and intelligence and then contracted all that information to supposedly US enemy China. I believe David Shedd is also now in international private practice. Their nations are whoever can pay. We didn’t really need the US Patriot Act to tell us our intelligence agencies may be allies but the people in our states are certainly not their allies.

This is not national security. It is certainly not security for my nation. My nation consists of the caregivers of communities and the environment all over the world. They aren’t spying on corporations and telling communities what corporations are up to, they are spying on communities and selling that information to corporations. The victims of Jeffrey Epstein, all the victims whose abusers are protected by official secrets and taxpayer funded NDA’s, none of these victims are part of their nation. Their nation is the international intelligence community and the politicians and corporations who can afford to pay them. This is not national security. It is a mafia protection racket available to the highest bidder.

Response by David Shedd.

HM: Why are you not doing anything about ICE internment camps in the United States if you care so much for latin americans?

DS: What camps???

HM: Maybe you should read the news.

[Some more back and forth about ICE where I discussed their access to intelligence data and potential to become an intelligence agency and Shedd denied everything and rolled his eyes at the audience. After the panel, the other panelists left and the audience stayed and asked a lot of questions about ICE. I explained that they were comparable to the Gestapo and some of their activities at that point (February).]

DS: Our brave men and women ….

HM: Torturers.

DS: Torture??!? What torture???

HM: Have you not read the Torture Report? Obama declassified part of it, didn’t you know?

DS: Stop. Our brave men and women devoting their lives …

HM: Torturing people.

DS: I asked you to stop.

HM: I asked you for twelve years to stop torturing my friend and you didn’t stop.

THE END

Note: There was a meet and greet before the panel. David Shedd outlined work he was now doing in South America to “ensure compliance” with banking regulations. I asked: “Is that meant to ensure the United States has a monopoly in money laundering?” and he said he didn’t know. Shedd also said he works with a charity to stop trafficking of women in children in South America, overlooking the obvious first step of getting the CIA and its contractors to stop trafficking women in children in South America, and he deplored that Russia was beating the US to the destruction of the Arctic.

 

If you would like to contact the Oxford Union about their censorship criteria, this is the current Standing Committee. The presidents (so far) who have supported the censorship are Laali Vadlamani, Gui Cavalcanti and Stephen Horvath. Here is Oxford Union on social media:

https://twitter.com/OxfordUnion

https://www.youtube.com/user/OxfordUnion/videos

https://www.facebook.com/pg/theoxfordunion/posts/?ref=page_internal

https://www.instagram.com/theoxfordunion/

Response to EU Commission on fake news

In your opinion, which criteria should be used to define fake news for the purposes of scoping the problem?

A simpler method would be to define non-fake news. Non-fake news is that which emanates from complete, open, sourced, audited information on a topic. By this definition, almost all news is fake news, but it doesn’t have to be. If we create platform-independent knowledge repositories which link, source and verify news from all sources by topic, any news which emanates from that source is not fake news. This will allow us to share news that may be as simplistic and incomplete as a meme, but still links to a complete, verifiable source. It also allows information from epistemic communities whose knowledge is at an elite level to be distilled down to any level of interest without losing truth, context or verifiability.

Please specify which categories of fake news are more likely to cause harm to society.

All categories of intentional disinformation are harmful. You could add corporate advertising and state propaganda but intentional disinformation should stand alone without qualifiers. Knowledge is necessary for democracy and must be recognized as a human right along with free speech and free press. An uninformed vote is a coerced vote. People who have lost trust or access to knowledge will blindly follow demagogues and ideology as we are increasingly seeing.

What are the main economic, social and technology-related factors which, in the current news media landscape, contribute to the increasing spread of fake news?

The design of the web is centred around personalities and organizations (instead of information) which makes it impossible to collaborate at the data level or have platform-independent information. This allows information to be owned by technology companies and locked away from information on other platforms. This contributes greatly to self-perpetuating thought bubbles of biased information which translates to increased bigotry and misunderstanding offline.

Additionally, platform dependency means there is no way to link all perspectives on a topic together or easily source where an information snippet originated. Information filtering is left up to easily manipulated corporate algorithms instead of human trust networks which allows bot farms to flood platforms and make real news impossible to find. Celebrity is amplified over expertise.

Why are measures taken by tech companies not so effective in combating fake news?

They are far more easily manipulated by tech savvy misinformation campaigns than by the casual users who are a target of misinformation and they just decrease the public trust in information which is already at a crisis level. People do not have time to verify all the news they read so they will stop believing anything, especially since ‘debunking’ claims are now a favourite way to spread misinformation.

What precautions should readers take when reading and sharing news online?

It is unrealistic to expect all readers to invest all of the time required to fact check all of the information they ingest every day. Expecting this of them will just further erode their trust in any information and their engagement on important topics.

A study to measure the level of factual news believed by users of each platform would be very helpful in identifying the thought bubbles created on each platform and how resilient each is against fact checking.

What should be done to reduce the spread of disinformation online?

The current lack of trust in information is the single biggest crisis facing democracies. A universal database commons is needed which can help to create a platform-independent, collaborative, knowledge repository as explained in the links at end and on http://www.getgee.xyz/

Which measures could online platforms take in order to improve users’ access to reliable information and prevent the spread of disinformation online?

It isn’t the job of online platforms. Corporate monopolies over information filtering is a very bad idea. We need independent collaborative knowledge repositories which are only possible with a platform-independent universal database.

We need a platform-independent universal database commons.

Also, if dedicated bot armies are detected, they should not be just deleted. Those streams should be archived and accessible to researchers who want to compare what ideas and stories are being pushed by what networks.

In your view, which measures could news media organizations take in order to improve the reach of reliable information and prevent the spread of disinformation online?

Participate in creating online collaborative knowledge repositories. Collaborate with other news organizations and other news sources. Encourage a more educated public with more in-depth articles.

New organizations are barely keeping their heads above water and must forego valuable investigative reporting for clickbait. A universal database would give them a new business model and more collaborative journalism, but governments need to recognize access to trustworthy information as an essential right under a democracy, as important as the right to vote, and support access to reliable information. This is not something news organizations can or will do on their own.

In your view, which measures could civil society organizations take in order to support reliable information and prevent the spread of disinformation online?

Again, this is not their job. Access to reliable information is a fundamental core of democracy and it is government’s job to ensure that the public can create information that is open, permeable, audited by the public and not controlled by corporate platforms. EU governments should support the infrastructure to create a universal database. Civil society organizations would then have a reasonable place to create verified, open knowledge which they do not have presently.

What actions, if any, should be taken by public authorities to counter the spread of fake news, and at what level (global, EU, national/regional) should such actions be taken?

We need a universal database commons which will allow us platform independent collaboration on information. Democratic public authorities should support this platform independent access to information as they support access to the internet, as a universal human right.

Well, I tried. Final report. Corporations and states manipulate social media to spread disinformation and escalate division and use that as a reason that corporations and states need more control over online dialogue.

The evolution of democracy

Transcript (more or less) from The evolution of democracy: Explaining Trump, Brexit and the Colombia peace deal, a keynote at Inteligencia Colectiva para la Democracia’ in Madrid, November, 2016.

My name is Heather Marsh. I am a writer and a programmer and I have been studying and experimenting with both local activism and methods of mass communication and collaboration for many years now. From 2010 to 2012 I was the administrator and editor in chief of the Wikileaks news site Wikileaks Central where I experimented with creating knowledge repositories, tying that information to things that were happening in the news and creating action based on that information. News without action is just voyeurism and action without information creates a very easily manipulated public, so I was trying to bring the two together in one place. In 2012 I concentrated more social media collaboration and I wrote a first book called Binding Chaos about all the problems I had seen while working with Wikileaks, Occupy, Anonymous, M15 and many other mass movements in recent years. We all seemed to be coming up against the same issues with hierarchy, direct democracy, consensus and collaboration. As I kept working on various projects it became apparent that we as societies had been butting heads for millenia on these same issues which really come down to trying to create a balance between autonomy, diversity and society, which is the title of my next book. And along the way I have been thinking of what tools we would require to help us achieve this balance, and the primary one I have been working on is a universal database and trust network called Getgee.

So today what I would like to talk about are some ideas from Binding Chaos and a little bit from Autonomy, Diversity, Society which will hopefully help when we are thinking about creating products for mass communication and mass collaboration. The focus is on creating a balance between personal autonomy of those doing the work, diversity of ideas and solutions and allowing the participation of the whole society.

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How many people here have heard of a technological singularity? A technological singularity is something IT people and science fiction writers have liked to talk about for years. The idea is that we will reach a point, or have already reached a point, where technology is beyond the scope of human understanding and artificial intelligence will be programming itself, in a Skynet sort of world. It’s funny, people have been talking about this for years, but not many have noticed or acknowledged that we have instead reached a completely different type of singularity which is a societal singularity. We have reached a point where no one can understand every aspect of society which affects them. If you go back in history, crafts people could know everything there is to know about their jobs and people could know everything that went on in their villages but this is just not true any more. And even our villages and neighbourhoods are not autonomous, they are all connected now at some level with all the other communities in the whole world, even uncontacted tribes.

We need to collaborate with others not only to develop tools but even just to understand the news. We have to put our faith in other people and believe in what they tell us or trust in their skill to create their components if we are building a product. As programmers we have been used to working as an ecosystem like this for years, we always have to incorporate other people’s work and their bugs into our own, but this has spread to almost every aspect of public life. And this is one of the biggest challenges in creating tools for democracy. We can’t have real direct democracy or self governance any more because none of us can understand every aspect of everything. We need to rely on collaboration instead and this is going to require a completely different set of rules than we have used in the past. We need more than simple referendums and voting to govern ourselves this way. We need to somehow create nuanced and detailed information we can trust and we need to coordinate goals with people we will never speak to.

There are two main areas to talk about which are idea based collaboration and action based collaboration. The challenge in a societal singularity is how to allow all people to participate and communicate but still be able to filter signal from noise and how to allow people democratic choice but still retain worker autonomy.

First of all, let’s look at mass action based collaboration.

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For action based tasks, the model that has become almost ubiquitous is the competitive hierarchical model. Most of us are all too familiar with this model. The typical response to a situation which requires an action is to create a noun, in the form of an organization, government body, or an official person and the focus is always on the organization and the personalities involved instead of the action. The hierarchy creates what I call personality based systems, as opposed to idea or action based systems. A new idea in a personality based system remains completely bound to the owner until it is legally transferred to another owner. All contributors work for the owner, not the idea, and you have to wait on one specific person for approval or direction at each level so there are bottle necks everywhere.

Most workers do not enjoy hierarchical systems as they lose autonomy, mastery and creative control over their own work, they just become an instrument under somebody else’s direction. The orders come from the top down and so there is very little diversity of ideas and we lose all the talent and ideas downstream. Because it is a closed system, collaboration between people does not happen unless they are hired by the same project. Competition is the opposite of mass collaboration. It’s really people working against each other, not together. So there is no autonomy, no diversity and no society.

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The alternative to competition has traditionally been cooperation. Cooperative groups try to replace the top down hierarchy with a group consensus driven system which allows diversity of opinion at the top.

This is most effective only in groups of two to eight people. For groups larger than 25, cooperation is extremely slow. It is still a personality based system. An idea in a cooperative must be approved by the entire group, both on initiation and at each stage of development. The majority of energy and resources are spent on communication, persuasion, and personality management, and a power struggle can derail the whole project.

It can be dominated by extroverted personalities who make decisions to control the work of others and are very justly resented by those doing the actual work. Cooperatives frequently use consensus or votes to make decisions for the entire group. These methods may not produce the best results, particularly in large groups, as many people may not understand the work if they are not actually doing it and they may demand things they would never be willing to do themselves. The feeling of the workers at the bottom is no different whether there is a horizontal or a hierarchical structure making the decisions, the workers still have no personal autonomy.

Both competitive and cooperative projects will die if the group that runs the project leaves and both will attract or repel contributors based on the personalities of the existing group. Both are hierarchical systems where individuals need to seek permission to contribute. Both focus on the authority of personalities to approve a decision instead of focusing on the idea or action itself. So we have a society, at least within the group, but not without, but we still have no autonomy and because of the need to reach consensus there is also no diversity of product.

This isn’t in any way to say that cooperative and consensus driven systems are bad. They are actually the most comfortable way of working in small groups who know each other and have similar styles and share a goal, but they are very difficult to scale. As soon as you have a very large group of people with opposing viewpoints and personalities that don’t mesh, it is very difficult to get anything done.

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I use stigmergy to describe a method of action based collaboration that is suitable for mass movements. I didn’t make up this awful word by the way, it is lifted from biology where it describes indirect communication and collaboration among ants and termites and various other creatures. In human movements, it allows diversity of methods and autonomy for workers while still putting the ultimate authority of choice with the whole society, to try to achieve that balance we talked of earlier. It is neither competitive nor cooperative. It is action based collaboration instead of personality based.

A system is stigmergic if

– it follows one goal

– it is completely transparent

– it is open to everyone to participate, at least within the user group

– the output is free for anyone to use and improve on

Stigmergy gives people autonomy over their own work. With stigmergy, an initial idea is freely given, and the project is driven by the idea, not by a personality or group of personalities. So no one needs permission, like they would in a competitive system, or consensus like they would in a cooperative, to initiate a project. There is no need to discuss or vote on the idea. If an idea is exciting or necessary it will attract interest and the interest attracted will be from people willing to contribute so those with more involvement in the idea will automatically have greater influence through their contributions.

There are no official authorities but the power of the user group still exists in the ability to accept or reject the work.

Workers are free to create regardless of acceptance or rejection. Drastically innovative ideas almost never receive instant mainstream acceptance so leaving control of work to group consensus only cripples innovation. When we allow anyone to contribute we also have a great diversity of talent and people can step up to further the goal in ways the originator never imagined.

So here we have full autonomy and diversity but the entire society still has the ultimate choice.

slide6

Where is stigmergy? We have always had stigmergy in our social lives and it has been behind most mass movements that have had any success. You can see it wherever groups of diverse people who do not belong to any formal organization or have any formal communication with each other are all working together to carry out a goal.

If you look at something like the civil rights movement in the United States, that is a multi-generational movement of so many people and so many different methods and everyone who has contributed, whether they are groups or individuals, has decided for themselves how they can be most effective. If this stigmergy chart was for that movement, that big group can be the Million Man March, the square is Malcolm X and his followers, the heart can be MLK, and between them all by themselves is Ruby Bridges or Rosa Parks, none of them had to communicate or come to consensus but they are all trying for the same goal and are more or less aware of each other’s activity. The US still hasn’t reached that goal so they go through periods of great upheaval followed by periods of more calm working, depending on whether an event sparks more action or something blocks progress for a while.

A stigmergic movement will continue as long as the goal is not reached and people still share it, even if it dies down or goes dormant for a bit. That is the advantage to an idea based system over a personality based one, you can’t kill an idea.

Or another stigmergic idea is freedom of information. This has everyone from the free software movement, creative commons and similar open copyright groups, Sci-Hub which liberates scientific papers, other filesharing sites, Wikipedia, even the Internet itself in its original inception might be considered a node in that stigmergic movement.

What keeps these movements from burning out, like so many do in the massive assemblies, is the fact that they are not spending all their energy communicating except in small groups and they are following one clear idea.

It is not often you find one organization or group that is purely stigmergic, but Anonymous is one. This is why they say they are not an organization or group. They usually say they are an idea, but they aren’t really one idea either, they are a method of mass collaboration and the method is stigmergy. That method allows everyone to follow whatever ideas they choose, in groups or individually with perfect autonomy. Anonymous never tries to reach consensus. Anonymous is not unanimous. And there is no organization you can order to do something, Anonymous is also not your personal army. You have to just put an idea out and see who follows it.

It may seem difficult to figure out how stigmergy can be used in a corporate setting where everything is set up around organizations and official people, but it helps if we remember that each of those organizations, no matter how they are organized internally, can be a node under a stigmergic idea. I am often asked if Wikipedia is a good example of stigmergy and no, it is not. Wikipedia is a cooperative. You may contribute work without asking anyone but your work can be thrown out and you can be locked out of contributing, or the topic locked, and there is a definite personality based hierarchy and a need to reach consensus around one final product. There is no diversity of product tolerated and there isn’t any real autonomy either.

But Wikipedia is still one of many nodes under the idea of Freedom of information because what they produce is completely free for anyone else to use or modify. I said earlier that Anonymous was stigmergic but Anonymous very frequently works with other people like news or human rights organizations or other hacking collectives such as Redhack who are themselves internally communist. It doesn’t matter what the internal organization of each node is as long as they are all following the same idea and their work is available for everyone else to use.

So the same methods can be used for corporate work. The key is for corporate style organizations to recognize what stigmergic ecosystem they are a part of and follow the guidelines to make their work contribute smoothly to that idea. One place where stigmergic development has really taken off is in the IT industry because free software has meant that the output is available for everyone to use and improve or modify. If we look at one stigmergic idea: We need better web development tools. If we had left this to Google, and Google had been acting like their competitive corporate selves, we would have just had the Angular framework, and progress would be Angular 2.0. And we do have Angular 2.0, but we also have Facebook’s React, Ember and many others. As long as the user group has not reached consensus over what tools we want for full stack development we have many contributors creating different frameworks for us.

When we start to reach wide consensus in some area, like yes, we don’t want any more black and purple websites with green sparkles and the vast majority of us are going to create websites that are very uniform, we start to see more and more conformity around standards like Twitter’s bootstrap styles but as soon as someone has a very divergent idea that people find interesting again, like Google’s material design, many people will start hacking on it and trying to create different solutions again. The same periodic upheavals of innovation and change are apparent here as in the social movements driven by stigmergy. In this case HTML5 and ES6 stimulated a rush in web development tools in general.

Of course this example of corporate stigmergy has some major issues., first in who is getting paid and who is not. Google employees are and free software programmers frequently are not. And even with free software, when you have players like Facebook and Google and Twitter it is going to be a bit hard for anyone without their development team budget and user groups to compete so it is not a level playing field for all to participate, but as long as the code is commons property we can have consensus without monopoly which is a huge improvement. It is starting to approach stigmergic organization, just from the addition of this one change, of software that is free for anyone to use or modify. You can see this especially as you move away from the big corporations to the later development add ons, in all the diverse people writing packages and tools for React and Angular and the other frameworks.

This is better than academia and science manage. They are supposed to be stigmergic as well, the idea in science and academia is that everyone is supposed to publish and build off each others findings, but because they do not have open source and permissive copyright or even access, their work is frequently corporate IP property, and they don’t allow or reward outside contributions, they are very far from stigmergic and their progress is not nearly what it could be. If we look back at the principles of stigmergic organization, the last three of four points do not apply to science and academia so they both need to change if they are going to truly act as epistemic communities for us all. Which brings us to my next point which is about idea based collaboration.

slide8

We have stigmergy for action based collaboration which follows an idea, but what if we want to collaborate on ideas themselves, to build knowledge and find some most reliable facts? If we look at the 2010-2011 movements, like M15 and later Occupy and all the rest, they were fine with action based collaboration, especially when they used stigmergy, but they really struggled when it came to idea based collaboration, like setting goals. This is kind of important since without the ideas, you don’t have the action. Stigmergy follows ideas and information, so management of the ideas and information here is as important as management of personalities is in competitive or cooperative systems. If you think of this in a governance context, we won’t be electing personalities, we will be electing ideas.

To see what happens when an idea loses its clarity, or its idea has been co-opted, look at feminism. The civil rights movement in the US retained its clarity because it has set specific goals in each cycle whether that is to end slavery, end segregation, or end police violence. When feminism meant fighting for the vote and legal personhood it had a clear goal and was a stigmergic mass movement but second wave feminism allowed itself to become a noun instead of an action, its goals became very loose and because there wasn’t a clear goal it was used to advertise corporate product and promote prominent personalities, primarily from the United States, who felt they could speak for every woman in the world on every topic. A noun is not a stigmergic goal, a noun is an organization, so when feminism became a noun it stopped being a stigmergic movement and became a competitive, personality driven, organization which became completely divided, as is typical, these types of organizations do not scale.

The single biggest factor I’ve found for whether or not someone will participate in a stigmergic action is whether they are sure of the idea behind it. Not whether it affects them, or if its simple to grasp or easy or even safe to do. I have created many actions where the audience was completely removed from the people affected or where the action was dangerous or very difficult to understand or even initially believe. None of this mattered. All that mattered in whether the action was a success was whether people could be sure the goal is sound. And the easiest way for someone to prevent action is to sow doubt in the goal. That initial kernel that makes up the idea looks simple but it is everything. But finding the information we need for conviction in our goals is not easy.

If we think of a large population creating a knowledge repository stigmergicly, we have a picture of a bunch of ants sifting and sorting information and putting the best in a pile. And that’s probably how we thought we were going too do things on Twitter. But that’s not how expert knowledge, like the kind we have in a singularity, works and it’s why a bunch of people in a horizontal group can’t just do that. Especially a personality dominated horizontal group like Occupy or any direct democracy that starts from the premise of all voices and opinions being equal. This goes back to the idea behind a societal singularity, we can’t all be experts at everything and we don’t want to be either. We don’t have the time and we may not have the interest. We can’t keep berating voters for not spending all of their time studying everything that affects them, it’s impossible and it’s not fun either. We need to find a better solution.

slide9

I love this chart because it illustrates exactly why we need concentric circles in a democracy. This space between innovation and acceptance is where demagogues and gate keepers lie in wait to control information before it reaches the public. Like little trolls under the bridge. This is why we need knowledge bridges to replace the gatekeepers because most ideas can’t make it across this chasm on their own.

If you think of recent examples of elite working groups whose ideas were rejected by the wider society, like Brexit in the UK or the peace deal in Colombia, it was because of a failure of the working group to establish effective knowledge bridges between them and the public. The public did not see their viewpoints being heard and responded to and they did not see or understand or trust the decision making process, which gave demagogues on the outside of the process the ability to derail the acceptance of their recommendations. The people had information that was too difficult to audit themselves, and they had no faith in the people offering solutions. People in the UK said repeatedly they were sick of being lied to by the media and experts.

When people lose faith in those who are supposed to be their experts, like politicians, or those who are supposed to be their knowledge bridges like the media, they lose faith in any stigmergic goal these people present and they will block it, as I said earlier. The information from the opposition in both cases was certainly no better, nobody was offering a fully developed and audited plan for an alternative peace deal or a detailed plan to exit the EU, but even very poorly supported information and hyperbole is sufficient to overturn an idea that the public doesn’t trust. We can see this also in most elections, there are just demagogues and hyperbole on both sides, there is no process of reconciling any issues with the public or providing information people can rely on. In fact, the goal seems to be to deliberately confuse and immobilize the public and then just give them a binary vote in the hope they vote against the establishment which has lost so much trust. This is why both sides seem to only be interested in painting the other as the most corrupt establishment.

[On May 8 2017, former US Director of National intelligence James Clapper suggested the solution to the misinformation of the US 2016 election was to further fund USAID and spread more misinformation against US enemies. Those are exactly the actions that caused people to lose faith in information emanating from the US in the first place.]

You may have seen a lot of people blaming this current state of low information on social media and they are partially right but corporate media certainly doesn’t get a free pass either. Most of the tools we have to communicate simulate direct democracy and look for popular ideas, the most retweets and the most readers, but not only is popular not innovative or expert, the two are mutually exclusive. Popular ideas are riding the peak of the wave of socially acceptable opinion. They already appeal to the widest audience. They are not new ideas, by definition, and they aren’t at a level of elite expertise that is difficult for all but a few to understand also by definition. This is why we now elect politicians on the basis of their tweets and this is the secret for politicians like Donald Trump who speaks at a grade 3 level. The more easily understood and the less challenging your message, the wider your appeal will be so an age that amplifies the most popular information, as we do now, will be an age of demagogues.

It is counter intuitive to think popular ideas are what we need to give us the best information. If we need some specialized level of knowledge to explain something like Brexit or a peace deal or the issues in an election, or if we want those making the decisions to hear the voices that are seldom heard, that may expand their Overton windows and give us some fresh perspective, or represent a rare case that will cause their solution to break, amplifying the most popular ideas or people is the exact opposite of what we ought to be doing. And really this is what direct democracy, representative and liquid democracy do, so of course it is also what the tools for democracy have been doing.

We have tools that are very useful to find out what a population thinks and tools that are great for discussing things and coming to consensus, but we need to also go to where their opinions are formed. Opinions are based on information. We need to be able to find expertise and accurate and diverse information that we can trust before we form our opinions and long before we measure them.

Ideas need to be audited and promoted by those users qualified to understand them to allow diversity of ideas and prevent the process from being dominated by celebrities without the expertise required. But if we have an elite discussion group with only elite experts or ideas in it, we are at great risk of having an elite oligarchy based on control of information. This is what we have now. We don’t maintain the necessary balance between autonomy, diversity and society unless this quiet place to talk remains a fully associated part of the wider group. So to avoid a hierarchy and leave control with the entire user group, I use a structure I call concentric circles.

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Concentric circles relate to sound amplification. In a concentric circle, people or ideas promoted to the center by their peer group receive greatest amplification and their findings will be audited, amplified and explained to the general public by outer circles. They are not hierarchical as they have no direct control over the actions of anyone. An epistemic community is a knowledge resource only, authority remains with the entire user group which provides a good incentive for the epistemic community to ensure transparency and knowledge bridges so their ideas are accepted. As in stigmergy, votes in a concentric group are frequently replaced by actions. If this little drop receives no amplification, it is just an idea that goes nowhere.

With knowledge bridges, you don’t have to have personal expertise on every aspect of society. All you have to do is have a transparent concentric circle that you can look at, you can see the activity, you can get feedback if necessary, and you can say yes, there are a lot of people auditing, there is a lot of discussion, I trust some of the people in these circles, I trust that they know what they are doing. Everyone can review the work of the experts both directly and through the review by their peers. Experts can also be created by the system itself as users develop knowledge and reputation and move towards the centre and you will find this happens increasingly if users lose trust, they will realize they need to start auditing this circle.

Communication should not be the full responsibility of the experts in the centre, which is where government initiatives like Brexit and the Colombia peace deal have failed. Ideas should be carried over expertise bridges by full transparency and user participation. The epistemic community in the centre should not need to protect themselves from demands or attacks from completely uninformed users or demagogues. The circles of expertise which promoted them to the centre should also verify and explain their findings to the outer circles. And, concerns and arguments from the user group should be carried back to the epistemic community if the user group finds the points valid. So the epistemic community can work without noise but still receive ongoing feedback from the users and acceptance is a process, not just a binary vote after the fact.

If this all sounds familiar, it’s because this is exactly what happens in open source communities.

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In open source software, the code for each project is available for all to see. Even if the end user cannot understand the code, they can go to discussion groups or listen to programmers who have read and audited the code, they can read the bug reports. Any urgent bugs will be broadcast to the general population and amplified by media as we have seen many times. The people with the greater knowledge of the system will provide knowledge bridges for people at a more novice level and increasingly, that’s how people are learning to code. Good ideas from forum discussions can be read, possibly implemented by the developers as well. Transparency goes both ways.

Open source software with forums open to all are a perfect working example of fully transparent and audited systems of elite knowledge. While the decisions are made by the developers, review and acceptance or rejection of the software is the right of the user group. If the developers refuse to listen to the user group and another development team is willing to work on the project, the original code can be forked and modified to meet the user requirements. Which means you can only be attacked by another fully developed, open and transparent epistemic community which also must be audited by knowledge bridges. You can’t be attacked just by a demagogue and rhetoric, you can only be opposed by another working solution so the user group has a choice between two or more working solutions instead of simply rejection or acceptance. Which means we need the final most important point for concentric circles – the information is free for anyone to use or modify.

Imagine if HTML and Javascript were corporate products that were not available to the public to use, like Bill Gates wanted programming languages to be back in the day. We would not be talking about web development frameworks as a stigmergic system. They would be just one proprietary product delivered by one corporation, probably Microsoft. The fact that we won this fight against Bill Gates and those like him is the single biggest reason that programming and IT have progressed so incredibly far and quickly and the reason IT is the best place to look for corporate examples of stigmergy. Just imagine if we had this same freedom to use the end products of other industries, like pharmaceuticals for instance which Bill Gates is currently pushing oppressive IP laws for.

Intellectual property in a stigmergic system is like an ant that finds food but doesn’t leave any pheromones to tell the other ants. Or worse, actually blocks the other ants and that idea is so ridiculous I can’t even think of a stigmergic example of it. Ownership of ideas is in complete opposition to stigmergy which is to say it is in complete opposition to rapid progress, finding the best solutions and democracy.

slide12

So what we have been looking for here are methods of collaboration that bring us a balance between autonomy, diversity and society. We want to allow the maximum amount of autonomy to those doing the work so we can include all of their ideas and abilities. We want to allow as many diverse solutions as people are inspired to try for each problem. And then we want to allow the entire user group to easily make an informed choice of which solution is best for them as is their right in a democracy. So our methods are stigmergy, which we use for mass action and concentric circles which we use to audit, teach and amplify information.

The best part of stigmergic work and transparent concentric circles for knowledge is our work doesn’t get wasted. When you come to an event like this with a specific project, it is easy to feel as though you are in a competition where you are only associated with one project and your success or failure is tied to that one project and the group around it. But even if you organize your own team in a completely different form, if you follow these principles you will still be contributing to progress as a node in a stigmergic idea. For this two weeks the idea is: Let’s develop better tools for democracy. If you follow these principles, if other people are free to contribute to your project and you to theirs, if you add what you learn to the epistemic community of ideas and act as a knowledge bridge to those learning and most of all if your code is open and free, you will still be part of the community around this idea contributing to the goal we are all working towards. You will be part of the ecosystem.

Q and A not translated.

More information: http://www.getgee.xyz/

Mastodon, Getgee and the decentralized data movement

From Diaspora and GNU Social to Cimba and Mastodon, increasingly sophisticated alternatives keep offering to move the public off of the data harvesting platforms that manipulate people and sell their personal data. No one should be gifting their innermost thoughts to states and corporations. Personal data is used to coerce public opinion and advance the interests of undemocratic entities who have only maximum profit for their shareholders as a guiding principle. No one should risk storing their personal data on a platform that sees their data as ‘the new oil’.

The problem is, the people aren’t moving. The reason they aren’t moving is the new alternatives aren’t offering what they need.

What do we need?

Our greatest need is for a collaborative information commons, for open journalism, for open science, and just for fun. We need a place where the data is not personal data but it is not corporate data either. We need a place where the application software is decoupled from the data but the data is all still linked.

While secure communication and ownership of personal data is important, mass communication and mass collaboration are required to change the world. People risk their lives to tweet because they want to be heard. More, they want their stories to be a part of the permanent record, not lost in a stream of transient white noise. If we have a data commons, we can have the participatory governance, research and global collaboration so many of us dreamed of, free of corporate ownership or interference.

With a universal data commons we can:

  • collaborate effectively and intelligently and solve the problems we are facing with far greater speed and accuracy.
  • all be much better informed and be able to easily see the original sources of our information.
  • easily see all related information on a subject from all perspectives.
  • replace transient and context-free news with continually growing and evolving knowledge repositories.
  • allow epistemic communities to work in peace within circles that match their own expertise and still maintain full transparency and participation by anyone interested.
  • bypass NGOs and funding platforms and provide aid to each other directly, and receive feedback directly, through our trust networks.
  • establish our own direct trade between communities.
  • use our own trust network to filter and fact check information for us instead of relying on third parties.
  • offer products and services to others and be easily found without centralized platforms.
  • rely on recommendations for products and services through our own trust networks.

With a universal data commons we can have far more understanding and well informed collaboration around the world. We need this.

Who is still on Twitter?

Reality Show Twitter, Instagram, etc

Twitter is a personality focused, broadcast platform for public data. Broadcast social media is largely a reality show, where microcelebrities vie with real celebrities for the next mainstream media article based on a tweet. No one on Reality Twitter wants to hide their light in personal online data storage (pods). Those not involved in the reality show are already on Slack, Gitter, sub-reddits, image boards, forums, irc, federated microblogging sites and secure group chats. The (sometimes paid) actors on social media reality shows will stay on the corporate broadcast platforms, along with their audiences and the media who report their tweets, until someone creates a decoupled, personality focused, broadcast platform.*

Research Twitter, reddit, etc

Yes, people are on social media to socialize, which is why the term was coined. But the term was also a demeaning dismissive, used by authoritative journalists and researchers who wanted to imply that all the public was interested in was socializing. Social media was meant to infer its users were not professional, even as all the professionals grudgingly moved onto it. The blue checks were meant to separate the real from the riff raff. In recent years, social media has become the unpaid backbone of research, journalism and governance. Social media alternatives are not addressing the unacknowledged part of social media, the collaborative media and research which the centralized platforms let us participate in and the open epistemic communities they let us listen to and learn from. Research Twitter will stay on Twitter until someone creates a decoupled, information focused, broadcast platform* that meets their needs. Like G.

What is wrong with what we have?

To quote Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, there are three primary problems facing web users today:

1)   We’ve lost control of our personal data
2)   It’s too easy for misinformation to spread on the web
3)   Political advertising online needs transparency and understanding

1) We have actually lost control of both personal and public data and in both cases we need to decouple application software from the data to regain control. In the case of private data we need to retain personal ownership and control of it and in the case of public data we need to create a universal data commons free from state or corporate control. We must have a clear distinction between public data and private data because the objectives are in complete opposition to each other. Since people don’t like using separate applications (based on the number of nude selfies posted in Twitter dm’s) we should make the transition from one environment to the other as seamless as possible for them.

The decentralized social media platforms on offer solve the problem of control over personal data in theory, but in reality most of them just create multiple little pods, each with their own tyrannical or benevolent admins, like subreddits or irc channels. They also make your data impossible to delete if they are linked to other pods.

2) and 3) are both problems facing the broadcast of public data which decentralized microblogging sites do not address in any way. Both of these issues require an application agnostic universal data commons like G. The hypernodes, constellations and galaxies in G allow all information in the data commons to be linked together and sourced, meeting item #3, transparency and understanding. G uses trust networks (which are not the same as social networks) to allow collaborative access and the optional filtering of information by the users themselves instead of by application software and search engines. These trust networks allow us to filter out astroturfing and set our own trust metrics (item #2, combating misinformation).

My own primary issues facing web users are:

1) Noise from celebrities and astroturfing drowns out the information we need the most.
2) Corporate and state control allow photoshopping of information they want suppressed and amplification of what they want heard.
3) Thought bubbles encourage consensus around one truth instead of allowing multiple viewpoints.

The answers to my issues are also provided by G:

1) We need an information focused platform instead of all the personality focused options we have.
2) We need to decouple application software from our public data and protect our data in a commons that is free from state or corporate influence.
3) We need a data commons which allows us to link multiple points of view at the data level.

Decentralized microblogging sites address none of these points either. For social peace, these pods of like-minded affinity groups may be a relief, but for information and research, they are a mistake. The only thing worse than a sealed well of information is a closed thought bubble of uniform opinion. A Wikipedia that was not all linked together would not be the resource we know and love. In fact it is frustrating that Wikipedia is separated by language, opposing opinions are lost to consensus and Wikipedia guidelines prevent gathering information by other guidelines.

* How can I tell if a new platform will take off? A checklist

What don’t we have yet?

People don’t move from the big microblogging platforms to the decentralized microblogging platforms because they are addressing technical issues and ignoring the personal ones. While a microblogging instance, a sub-reddit and an irc channel are all technically very different, they all feel very alike and will attract the same users. Their users do not have control of the data, but it isn’t really public either. They aren’t the right choice for private messaging, but neither are they the best choice for public broadcasting. They are personality focused and hopeless for information gathering but they are not a good celebrity vehicle either. They are decentralized by server (theoretically) but they are not decoupled from software.

The failure to replace the existing platforms is partly the failure to differentiate between public and personal data, between messaging and broadcast platforms, between personality and information focus and between decentralized platforms and decoupled data. Here is a little check list for the next time a ‘new social media’ is on offer. Is it adding something we need?

Public data: The goal is freedom from censorship or other deletion or modification. Most applications use p2p with or without blockchain, or censorship resilient platforms. We already have resilient publishing with p2p and blockchain (we could use more where appropriate but it isn’t a universal god like many believe).

Personal data: The goal is security against dissemination. Ideally, keep it off the Internet. If that is not possible, encrypt it and keep it under your control and easily deleted. Most people use secure chat apps (like those with otr). Secure data receives more funding and attention than any other technology and is fairly state of the art.

Personal messaging: The goal is to know who you are talking to. Most efforts for security already incorporate identity validation and most people currently use Facebook, Snapchat or other platforms that verify users and let you add and block them. This is the application that should be replaced by open source software alternatives using friend to friend architecture, like Retroshare, which have already existed for many years.

Broadcasting: The goal is wide dissemination. Most people use the platforms with the largest audience, like Twitter or public Facebook/Instagram pages or Youtube or mainstream media. Broadcasting is at the mercy of corporate and state control and needs solutions which decouple the data from application software. (See What Can G Be Used For?)

Personality focused: The goal is promotion of personalities (or brands). Most use large public platforms, like the above, which provide verification checks and audience/followers. Social media is almost universally personality focused, but there are opportunities for less central control and hierarchy.  (Again in What Can G Be Used For?)

Information focused: The goal is research and dissemination of information. This has very limited options available. At best we can use Wikipedia, media and specialized research platforms. There is a huge need for information centred solutions.

Decentralized platforms: The goal is to escape dependency on one server or platform. Data is spread across multiple servers or no servers (and so it is hard or impossible to delete). Use Diaspora, GNU-social, Mastodon, Retroshare, Secushare, Cimba …. Platform agnostic or decentralized options have been around for years.

Decoupled data: The goal is freedom from corporate ownership of data, freedom from software dependency, data reusability and versatility of use. Data is separated from application software and is agnostic to what applications are used to access it. Use a universal database like G. Application agnostic data is far more rare than platform agnostic applications.

We need an information focused, broadcasting platform with application agnostic data. This is what we don’t have. This is what G is.

 

More information:

http://www.getgee.xyz/

Getgee synopsis: https://georgiebc.wordpress.com/2015/12/24/getgee-tools-for-self-governance-part-1/

Getgee transcript of talk: https://georgiebc.wordpress.com/2016/04/25/transcript-from-talk-about-getgee/

Science, isolation and control

 

Shall we substitute for the opium of religion an opium of science.” – Joseph Needham, 1935i

With the rise of dissociation came a culture of individualism and survival of the fittest. Wealth centred in individuals and happiness was expected to come from individual achievement, in both life and afterlife. The philosophy, politics and religions of hierarchical societies were all teaching extreme individualism, free will and dissociation from nature and body. Instead of proving his existence by measuring his effect on surroundings, as a part of a whole, Descartes’ first principle proved his existence in his own head with I think therefore I am.ii The soul had little concern with bodily functions as the body was only a temporary residence. The farther removed a mind was from corporal matters the more evolved it was considered. Buddha was a deadbeat dadiii who reportedly named his son Rahul for the meaning fetteriv before abandoning him for seven years. As caregivers were pushed lower in status, those who cared for no one, who put a sociopathic philosophy they claimed as reason above human empathy, were ever more celebrated.

Most old religions had people living with their gods and their actions were believed to have immediate impact on the gods’ lives and tempers. The gods were frequently of the ecosystem, as in animism, and did not tolerate disrespect. The major religions of the trade empires, all of which began on or near the silk road and were spread by the trade routes from that region, put the worship of man ahead of everything else in the ecosystem. Earth in these religions was temporary and existed to be used in the service of man’s temporary time on earth (as did women and children usually). This was the trade economy encoded in theology. Anything that didn’t suit the idea of isolated personal autonomy, that reduced the amount of control of man over his environment or self, was rejected. The individualism in popular thought reached an obsessive plateau with the popularization of science in Europe. Science became the embodiment of these beliefs and a way to insist on the credibility of an omnipotent and autonomous man and discredit all other beliefs. Science is a method which achieved the status of an evangelizing religion.

Science became an attempt by powerful men of Europe to discover, catalogue and own all of the supposed secrets of the universe, including those previously widely collected, catalogued and distributed through the Islamic world, India and China and those newly discovered through European empires. European science was marked by two features: the isolation and control of each tiny element in the universe, and the obsession with credit to and ownership by European men of each supposed discovery. Science was a continuation of trade exploration, intended for ownership and profit, not for expansion of tribal knowledge. Access to knowledge was strictly controlled by those universities which admitted almost exclusively wealthy European men. Ownership of knowledge was strictly controlled by copyrights and patents, almost exclusively granted to wealthy European men. The so-called intellectual property that forms the basis of wealth for almost all of the world’s most wealthy today began with an aggressive global scramble to seize and control all of the world’s knowledge.

The fact that a great deal of the knowledge these men sought was already held by indigenous people, women and other empires around the world was not an issue for them as they decreed that nothing could be acknowledged in science unless it was scientifically proven and written in scientific papers. In other words, no knowledge was real knowledge until it came from the mouth or pen of a western man. This idea quickly extended to all knowledge as even on the ground news reports today are labeled not verified until someone has paid a western journalist to repeat them.

Patents which had previously been granted to the medieval hoarders of knowledge in the form of guilds became available to individuals and corporations. Patents and copyrights pretended that each little piece of knowledge was not dependent on all others and could be individually owned and sold. With their requirement that the secrets contained be published for all to see, the new patents broke the power of the guild class. The secrets which were previously hoarded by the craftsmen using them were isolated and dissociated. Patents freed knowledge in order to hoard it in a higher class. Those with the power to purchase secrets no longer required the old societal ties to do so.

Patents and copyrights also solved the problem of most knowledge being already held by others for centuries or millennia because it granted ownership not to the origin of knowledge but to the first to file patents, almost always western men. Patents and copyrights are exclusionary rights. They are not rights to do something but rights to stop others from doing it. They do not exist to directly empower the owner, they exist to empower him in relation to his colleagues by restricting them. University accreditation and licensing act in the same way. Institutionalization and professionalization allowed control of the sources of knowledge and its use by the men of the dominant social classes, a situation still true today. Ownership and controlled access to knowledge established the new floor the upper classes stood on, the ceiling for everyone else.

With science began the discrediting of thousands of years of knowledge and the establishment of professions such as medicine as the exclusive domain of the caucasian men who had access to the universities and literacy. The creation of officially sanctioned knowledge and reassigning of credit removed ownership of knowledge from women, indigenous societies, peasants, and all lower classes and placed it all under the rigid control of the scientific class. Practices which had been used and tested for centuries were not considered official or tested until men of science approved and claimed ownership of them. Most prior knowledge had been transmitted orally, at least off the main trade routes. Even knowledge that had been written down was later transferred to manuscripts copied, purchased, stored and taught by wealthy men. The credit deserved by many great scientists and historians for their work in preserving a small part of these oral traditions does not mitigate the fact that almost all knowledge was needlessly filtered through western male bias and misunderstanding before it was accepted into the halls of officially accredited knowledge.

This collection of knowledge allowed social independence or dissociation to those with access to universities. Self-congratulatory science produced generations of wealthy boys accustomed to the idea that their institutions already possessed all answers for all things and they no longer needed the listening skills and respect for their elders, colleagues and trade partners formerly necessary to acquire knowledge. Even in media and politics, young male pundits were depicted as having all of the answers to everything without needing to consult anyone actually involved in an event and, as in science, all stories were presented through the filter of the western men who held the microphones. The institutions which controlled the certification of knowledge then blocked the majority of the world from access to knowledge which was previously available to all as commons property. The face of a western man became the face associated with expertise. The face of an old woman became the face of old wives’ tales and the face of indigenous people became the face of superstition. Science is depicted as the source of all modern knowledge but it has, for centuries, stood in the way of the vast majority of people who may have contributed and has also ensured that all knowledge developed and disseminated was to the benefit of the powerful.

Science is not a source of knowledge; it is a gate. Knowledge was gathered from the global commons and then restricted by science, academia and licensing exactly like all other resources were gathered and then restricted by the trade economy. Knowledge was held to not exist until science discovered it, just like resources were claimed to be unowned until Europeans discovered them. Scientists and academia effectively burned the world’s oral libraries of tribal knowledge and went back to playing with alphabet blocks until they could rediscover what was already known and patent it. The amount of knowledge irrevocably lost to this scientific cleansing is a global tragedy and the restriction of all forms of study to wealthy western men has retarded human progress for centuries.

Science and the trade economy were depicted as the only conceivable path to progress. All prior beliefs were subject to the burden of proof but everything said by the great religion of science was held to be true until proven again and again to be untrue. No matter how many times they failed, the scientific class was always held to be infallible. Scientists could, like Thomas Aquinas, prove that god existedv or like René Descartes, declare knowledge of god innatevi, and be given credibility. Skepticism was reserved for the old beliefs which were always derided as old wives’ tales and superstitions. Scientific beliefs were proven wrong every day by scientists themselves. It was not scientific methods or ideas being presented as infallible, it was the scientific class. They reserved the right to point out errors to themselves alone. To the people being studied by anthropologists, having their homes explained by biologists and their news reported by journalists, the experts were invariably ignorantvii, but they had no voice to say so. It was rare that they even had access to read what was being said about them. The knowledge experts prided themselves on their detachment from the objects of their study and called their ignorance impartiality.

The isolated thought bubbles of science and academia developed schools of western masculinist theory in service to industrial progress that were almost unusable when applied to the needs of the real world. It is only after intensive critique from the rest of the world, large scale adoption of knowledge from international sources and the commons, and frequent disastrous failure that science has made the contributions they are credited with. Even with the body of academic and scientific knowledge that has finally been built, progress is stalled by funding, credibility and fame that is only available in the west. The vast majority of funding and research is spent on topics that interest neither the researcher nor anyone else but serve to fulfill employment, accreditation or funding requirements. Topics which could be of huge benefit to wider society are not studied if they are not within mandates or of interest to funders or if they are not in the interests of state and industry. Research is driven by power, not need. Like silicon valley’s endless parade of apps of use only to the frat boys creating them, science and academia study issues that affect wealthy old western men from the lens of wealthy old western menviii.

After years of ignoring the empires Europe has been trading with for millennia and pretending that Europe was unique in the development of complex societies and empires, archaeologists are finally studying the great kingdoms of the rest of the world. Nearly every one of the sites newly receiving attention is headed by a western academic. One of the world’s most important sites is the Caral-Supe site in Peru. The research at Caral has been headed by Peruvian Ruth Shady Solís since it began in 1994. She published her findings regularly and in 1999 was invited to the U.S. to give a talk, by two U.S. researchers who then visited the site for one weekend in 2000.ix They offered to use their well funded U.S. university to assist with carbon dating in exchange for their names appearing on her paper. They then used the appearance of their names on that paper to set up a parallel research group which receives far more funding and publicity than hers and to claim that they discovered the site she showed to them.x They also renamed her Caral-Supe civilization ‘Norte Chico’, a designation the English media and resources such as Wikipedia have used since.

This type of appropriation is not unique. It is structural in the way academia and science operate. A system of knowledge ownership, reciprocal citation and promotion, industrial funding and regional wealth is toxic and incompatible with a level or open system of study. Academia and science still parasite off of people worldwide with knowledge to contribute and no way to fund it or be heard without attributing their work to someone with more power. Travel bans, sanctions, intelligence sharing and trade alliances restrict the free global exchange of information. Ownership of ideas then continues to enable disparity of income and power and the cycle continues. The so-called scientific community is really a scientific class that hoards knowledge from the classes below and is in service to the classes above.

Science is not a synonym for verified knowledge. Science is a class structure in a hierarchical trade economy which regulates knowledge and controls access to it.

The average person has difficulty understanding a whole system at once (perhaps especially male people and even more especially those who are attracted to the study of the minutiae of science).[cite] In order to maintain control over a specimen for study they must break it into tiny pieces and view them in isolation where they will lose all context and relevance. The division of labour in factories helped efficiency by allowing people to build without understanding how to build the entire product. Science was supposed to allow study with the same compartmentalized efficiency, but in science no one understood the whole. Like humans, animals and nature do not respond well to isolation and torture. They must be considered as a whole of interrelated parts observed in their natural habitat for any understanding.

Scientific isolation has, for centuries, left us a legacy of medicine which seeks to kill disease instead of improve overall health, and agriculture which seeks to grow isolated crops by killing everything except the chosen plant. All of the old knowledge which looked at ecosystems and organisms holistically and sought to work with them were replaced by petri dishes and attacks on every aspect of nature. Empathic and intuitive knowledge, where women were perceived to be stronger, were derided as unscientific. Science centred on isolated, sterilized experiments that explain how with obsessive mania without ever inquiring why. After centuries, science has yet to answer or even ask a single why and prides itself on its myopic views as indicative of reason.

Science encouraged the dissociation of all of its products from their natural origins, of medicine from plants to pills, of food from gardens to plastic bags of products unrecognizable as food. Medicine was conquered and in service to man instead of the former herbs and rituals working with nature and the body. Medicine, cosmetics and food, once inseparable, became isolated to the point that cosmetics were poison and food caused sickness. The hunt for wild animals, where people were joined in contest with the animal and grateful if they won, was replaced by domestic animals raised in factories under complete domination, torture and slavery. Prayers to thank the souls of animals for feeding them were replaced by assertions that animals were machinery made up of nothing more than working parts. Occasionally this isolation and dissociation was necessary but far more often it was to enable copyrights and patents for industrial control. The legacy of this isolation is a knowledge class that is dangerously removed from the world it studies.

Science sought to remove spontaneity as other institutions removed society. Biodiversity was shunned and Monsanto became rich on a promise to kill all that was unapproved. Human efficiency was studied like that of battery hens and both are isolated in corporate factories to maximize production and eliminate any life not related to service of trade. Isolation of work has been transmitted even to homes where isolated people argue about chores rather than gathering as communities to share work. William Petty’s Political Arithmetickxi allowed the reduction of people to numbers and value and the importance of individual experience was lost. The seed of collateral damage was born. Every plant and animal, like every human, must prove its usefulness to the trade economy. We now have corporate valuations of both people and nature and both must prove their worth to industry to be permitted to survive. Corporations are omnipotent, like gods, and have no duty to provide any social good or obtain any social approval. Science funded by corporations is more interested in mining asteroids than in rediscovering who we are or preserving life on earth.

Our world is in crisis. Verified knowledge has never been more necessary. Study, experimentation, analysis, publication and critique are necessary. Epistemic communities are necessary. Sometimes solving problems in isolation is necessary. Even various scientific methods, empiricism and also rationalism are necessary. What is not necessary, and is blocking achievement of the collective knowledge we so urgently need, is a social class that sets themselves up as the closed arbiter and keepers of all knowledge and operates in service to the trade economy.

Excerpted from Autonomy, Diversity, Society. Citations will be transferred when I get a minute.

People are commodity

In every single part of the world, chattel slavery has been a part of human history. No region of any significant size has not had large populations of people sold as slaves and no region has not purchased slaves. There is no era in which slavery was not a significant part of societal relations. Even hunter-gatherer people abducted or claimed slaves as war or crime reparations or as spoils of war. Throughout history and continuing today, these human products were used as adopted family members, labour, sex slaves, human sacrifice and even more gruesome fates. Even when they weren’t traded, they were chattel in that they were considered the property of an owner, to dispose of as they wished.

Slavery increased wherever the trade economy flourished, as did the production of all products for sale. The trade empires of the middle east and Africa were in very large part built by the labour of slaves and the wealth brought by the slave trade. During the last two millennia and earlier, the Arab and African states made slavery for both labour and sex an integral part of their social structure. Although slavery is technically illegal in every part of the world now (in Saudi Arabia and Yemen not until 1965, In Oman not until 1970 and in Mauritania not until 2007) neither region has ever really eradicated it and both have recently seen greatly increased human trafficking of all kinds[cite]. In addition to the regular trade, disasters such as the wars in Syria, the Central African Republic, South Sudan and elsewhere bring the international vultures of human trafficking as well as politicians not averse to ridding themselves of annoying populations at a profit.

Europe’s use of slaves dropped after the fall of the Western Roman Empire with the increase in serfs and indentured servants and the decrease in trade. Europe was still frequently raided for slaves for all reasons, particularly the Slavs who were so often raided that the condition of slavery became synonymous with their name. Possibly three million[cite] Russians, Poles, Ukrainians, Moldovans, Circassians and Lithuanians were enslaved by Central Asian khanates between 1500-1774 or six and a half million between 1200 to 1760,[cite] in a trade several authors have dubbed the “harvesting of the steppe”. According to Mike Dash, “the great Russian historian Vasily Klyuchevsky … observed that “if you consider how much time and spiritual and material strength was wasted in the monotonous, brutal, toilsome and painful pursuit of [the Tatar] steppe predators, one need not ask what people in Eastern Europe were doing while those of Western Europe advanced in industry and commerce, in civil life and in the arts and sciences.”

The vast majority of this trade was destined for the Ottoman Empire and the Middle East. The Slavs had been the site of frequent slave raids earlier by Vikings, Italy, and others for sale to the Byzantine Empire, but by the time of the Ottoman Empire the trade was huge, there and elsewhere. Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Britain, Ireland and Iceland were also raided by pirates from the Barbary coast and some estimates claim between 1 million and 1.25 million[cite] Europeans were captured by pirates and sold as slaves in Tunis, Algiers and Tripoli between the 16th and the 19th centuries. Slaves made up three quarters of the population of the Crimean Khanate and one fifth of the population of Constantinople. As huge and devastating as this trade was, it was matched or dwarfed by numbers enslaved in parts of Africa and does not include the smaller or more exotic branches of the trade like slaves from Karelia (Finland).[cite] Like Africa and the Middle East, eastern Europe has never eradicated this trade. The still primarily female slave exodus is still ongoing[cite], still with the complicity of some source and destination governments.

China at many times preferred peasant, serf and bonded labour to slavery, but large populations of criminals and foreigners were still enslaved throughout Chinese history and as now,[cite] any laws against slavery frequently did not reflect the reality. Like Africa and Europe, India’s preexisting slavery was greatly expanded by the Islamic slave markets. Later Indians were also sold to the European overseas empires. The Dutch had the largest slave trade in the world in the late 1600s and, besides enslaving the indigenous populations, they imported around 6000 African slaves and an unknown quantity of Indian slaves a year into the Dutch West Indies.[cite] South East Asian slave populations were huge, particularly in Thailand and Burma where some estimate a quarter or third of the populations in some regions were enslaved between the 17th and 20th centuries. All the above regions still have large populations in labour slavery today[cite], as well as sex slavery and purchased brides, increasingly as the female shortage in both India and China has become more acute[cite]. Nepal and other areas are frequently raided by traffickers for the sex trade[cite] and Nepal also has traditional slavery still in existence among the kamlari[cite]. Displaced populations like Burma’s Rohingya people are either pushed off into boats to die or they fall victim to the human traffickers, frequently associated with officials like those in the Thai navy[cite]. China also has indentured labour that is difficult to distinguish from slavery and they have mass trials and execute prisoners and political dissidents horrifically and on demand for the organ trade in what can only be called a human farming industry[cite].

Slavery was widespread in America, as it was on the other continents, and Europeans who landed in America both enslaved indigenous people and were occasionally themselves enslaved. As soon as overseas trade expansion began in the 15th century, so did renewed trafficking in slaves by Europe. The trans-Atlantic slave trade from Africa to America was a massive industry from the mid 1500’s to the mid 1800s, enslaving around 85,000 people a year at its peak[cite]. While slave raids have always resulted in very low survival rates for the victims, from causes such as long marches, foreign diseases, castration and abuse, the trans-Atlantic voyages were particularly long and horrific with inestimable death and suffering. In addition to slaves from Africa, political dissidents and victims of attempted genocide in Ireland and other unwanted or poor throughout Europe were sent as indentured servants in conditions sometimes close to slavery. With the progressive abolition of slavery in the colonies, their numbers were replaced by more indentured servants from India and China, also sometimes kept in conditions difficult to distinguish from slavery. As well as traditional slavery, the United States in particular has continued to keep servants in a state near indentured servitude through legal threats based on their visa status.

In the era of abolition, slavery was depicted in American colonies as a problem of racial equality. This approach disregards the entire history of global slavery which took place before racism was invented and which hasn’t been slowed at all by attempts to eliminate racism. The international focus on one part of the historical trade, labour slaves from Africa to European colonies, in particular the United States, has allowed all other slavery to operate with varying levels of impunity. When slavery becomes so visible it can’t escape notice, it is now called human trafficking. While the new term focuses on the sale of people rather than the use of them, they are both incomplete terms and the only reason to swap one for the other is to pretend that there was a point in history where slavery was abolished and now it is a historical topic. While there may no longer be African slaves picking cotton in the United States, there is unprecedented slave labour in the United States from the rest of America and even more slaves from around the world in the United States sex industry[cite]. Despite the fact that there are far more books and papers discussing the end of slavery than the continuation of it, slavery has increased in almost every part of the world[cite].

Slavery has also been depicted as a problem integral to production and capitalism. Both today and throughout history, there were huge populations of slaves purchased for consumption instead of production, slaves for sex and other service to the wealthy. Slaves as product instead of means of production have been widely ignored in movements focused on workers defined as those involved in manufacturing product. This has led many historians to depict the Arab slave trade as not related to labour and to talk about slaves being freed by marriage and adoption because the service of women and children continues to be unvalued. Exodus 21:2 instructed “If you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve for six years; but on the seventh he shall go out as a free man without payment.” but Exodus 21:7 qualifies “If a man sells his daughter as a female slave, she is not to go free as the male slaves do.” If marriage is involved there is no need to qualify. Then as now, we accept female slavery as a domestic cultural norm. If a boy is sold for labour, human rights groups call it slavery, but for a girl they use the term marriage in cases which are slavery by all definitions. Women and children’s bodies are also now a resource for the massive non-consensual porn industry, as product. Defining domestic and product slavery would require discussion of the roles of women and children in the wider society. The lack of autonomy of women and children in deeply patriarchal societies also makes it much more difficult to define the conditions which constitute slavery. If adult male standards were used, all women and children may be considered slaves in some communities.

Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was written in 1948 to abolish slavery. In 1966 it was modified to ensure it still allows slavery of the lowest class, in prisons. In the private prisons of the U.K., U.S. and Australia, people in prisons are chattel, actually owned by the corporate prisons, and their labour and their bodies can be sold through corporate contracts. With the scandals involving police and judiciary funneling people into these prisons for payment,[cite] it is evident the prisons are the new cotton fields in the United States and the judiciary and police in these cases are acting as slave traders.

Slavery, like genocide, is a problem that has been with us in every region and every era. To our credit, both are now almost universally recognized as something we need to overcome, but we are nowhere close to doing so. Both are largely ignored by both media and public, perhaps because those whose job it is to see that these crimes do not go on are helpless to stop them. Despite the attempts at creating peacekeeping forces by the United Nations and others, we have not developed a way for larger society to protect one group of people who another are intent on massacring. Neither do we have any way to stop a lucrative trade economy in any product, particularly when many of those profiting occupy powerful positions. It is easier to pretend these things no longer happen.

A 2014 study on population growth projections finds an 80% probability that the world population, now 7.2 billion, will increase to between 9.6 and 12.3 billion by 2100.[cite] Growth will occur primarily from nations which have suffered from trade pillaging, including indigenous populations in the Americas. In the wealthy states, as well as the rapidly growing economies such as China, Brazil and India, an epidemic of aging is projected instead.[cite] At the same time, income disparity has reached a point where “eight men own the same wealth as the poorest half of the world.”[cite] More than ever in history, there are far too many vulnerable people to meet the needs of the few who can afford to buy them. There is also a global gender imbalance[cite] which has been caused by the gynocidal[cite] actions of populations in China[cite] and India,[cite] the current and projected largest populations in the world, as well as other places. Since China and India are also two of the wealthiest economies, they can afford to spread their severe imbalance to other nations.[cite] More than ever in history, women are a global commodity.[cite]

The fact that population growth is stabilized or dropping in industrialized countries and increasing in developing countries and poor populations is used to justify both active and passive genocide by the people controlling the technology to wage war and stop disease. The number of displaced people reached 65.3 million in 2016 and is steadily climbing.[cite] It is no longer necessary to conduct raids into peaceful territories for the slave trade. Wars and famine are driving large populations of desperate and untraceable people into the arms of slave traders.

With the Australian government’s recent sale of refugees to Cambodia,[cite] human trafficking has become openly a government activity again, as it always has been secretly. The U.S. military and Canadian resource corporations have for years disdained justice systems in favour of monetary payouts for the lives of people they murder.[cite] The trade economy has normalized the valuation of people in monetary terms to the point that it is customary to reply with a dollar value when asked for a person’s worth. The underclass in earlier empires were valuable labour. In modern times the vast majority are expendable product. Replacing labour slavery with waged labour and automation has only expanded the uses people buy slaves for. People are bought and sold as products for militias, prostitution, marriage, organ trafficking and even ritual killings. People are tortured for ransom and charged for their passage as refugees.

There is no need for wise rulers to create community in a supranational empire. Trade can make problem populations disappear and bring profit too. Inconvenient populations were, and still are, packed on cargo ships and traded as slaves or indentured servants or settled in penal colonies far away from home. Bounties for neighbours helped fill Guantanamo as well as slave markets throughout history and today. One of the primary sources of income for stateless militias is still the ancient standby, kidnap and ransom. With the growth of criminal industry, human trafficking is far more versatile now than it has ever been. Stateless militias traffic people to sell for every criminal use, but use them as well as drug mules, for weapons running, as sexual bribes to militia members and as ‘suicide’ bombers. Both stateless and state militias use child soldiers. Boko Haram fighting against the Civilian Joint Task Force youth vigilantes endorsed and supported by the Nigerian military was a war of children against children, something none of Nigeria’s ally states objected to and something media seldom reported in their periodic hysteria about Boko Haram.

The trade economy creates a market for whatever product it has to sell. No one needs to buy trafficked humans. The demand is created by the seller who convinces the buyer. The vast increase in the paedosadism market, where children are raped, tortured or murdered for adult entertainment is a horrifying example of created demand.[cite] There is a new and growing market in West Africa created by those who have convinced politicians that amulets from ritual killings are necessary for their electoral success.[cite] China is farming prisoners and political dissidents and harvesting their organs on demand to market them to a self-indulgent and wealthy population who have been convinced they deserve immortality.[cite]

One of the most interesting economic loops of the last century is in the paedosadism market. A very large number of powerful officials in governments and international organizations have been implicated in paedosadism,[cite] leading to much debate in the press as to the causal link between paedosadism and high office. There is an obvious feedback loop between a criminal underground which is in charge of human trafficking and those in positions of power who are either lured to participate or were selected for high office because of their blackmail potential. The frequency with which spy agencies are involved in these cases also indicates that they may be encouraging the election of politicians and others who they can easily control with blackmail. Besides the incredibly high number of politicians implicated in the UK,[cite] thers are accusations that children from Kincora boys home were used by MI6 for blackmail of IRA and Sinn Fein members[cite] and accusations that Joris Demmink, the Dutch Minister of Security and Justice, was being blackmailed by Turkey[cite] and others. There have also been multiple cases of organizations such as United Nations peacekeepers involved in paedosadism, in Bosnia, in Somalia, in the Central African Republic and more. It is obvious that a criminal industry as huge as human trafficking cannot exist without borders and bank accounts being accessible to the trade and that access is ensured by a blackmail and bribery loop fed by the industry itself.

States also have multiple ways to profit from large populations now that large scale industrial labour is no longer needed. They are used for weapons advertising, as seen in the huge increase in arms dealer profits from the weapons trade shows being held over the slaughter of people in Syria, Gaza and elsewhere.[cite] They are used to fill prison corporations, a circular trade that has taxes pay corporations to imprison the citizens and then prisons sell the labour of prisoners to other corporations at a vast discount.[cite] People are made ill and their illness is used to profit the pharmaceutical and medical industries.[cite] Their food security is destroyed and the resulting famines are used to profit NGOs, a cycle well planned years in advance.[cite] Cartels in America sell drugs to the poor in the United States in exchange for the guns flowing down the Iron River from the United States to Central America.[cite] Weapons manufacturers in the United States profit on the lives of the poor in both Central America and the U.S. and then convince governments they need even more guns to stop the violence. Water everywhere is stolen and polluted by Coca Cola so that people are forced to buy Coca Cola.[cite]

Since the years during which IBM profited from cataloguing people for Hitler’s concentration camps,[cite] the tech industry has catalogued and spied on and murdered people for the powerful. Intelligence and military agencies have been accused of or admitted to conducting mass and individual experiments on foreign and local populations for decades and the findings are frequently used to profit industry.[cite] Food, environmental, worker and infrastructure safety are reduced by corruption, incompetence, and corporate greed, but even more so when the ruling strata would rather the population was reduced.

As people become more expendable, the popular uses for them are ever more genocidal. Drugs are as useful for immobilizing a large public and funding their tyrants as they were in the U.K. – China opium wars or Japan’s occupation of Manchuria. Today, China is more likely to be the supplier, as they are in providing fentanyl to the United States[cite] or heroin to Burma’s Kachin people.[cite] The three biggest criminal industries are all genocidal, a great help in removing populations standing in the way of resource corporations or threatening the wealthy. The weapons for populations to destroy each other with greater ease and the drugs to increase the violence and incapacitate effective resistance have been supplemented with the rapid growth of the human trafficking industry.

The trade economy and borders have made both genocide and slavery much more difficult to control. Both slavery and human trafficking are now illegal in every state in the world, but the states do not control the trade economy. Human trafficking is now the world’s largest criminal trade, ahead of weapons and drugs. Like the rest of the supranational merchant class, this economy operates above state jurisdiction. The United Nations has estimated there are now about thirty million slaves worldwide[cite] but it is impossible to know the real number. Traffickers are often supplied by organizations working with the most vulnerable people, from NGOs to military to child protection services. They haunt places where people may have gone missing for any number of reasons such as natural disasters and refugee migrations.

We have always had sectarianism. The difference now is we also have hierarchy. Those who treat the rest of us as an outgroup they have no empathy for are at the very top strata of society and have control over every aspect of our lives. We have always committed atrocities on people in our outgroups. The difference now is we can profit from those atrocities. Whether our actions have social approval or not, they can produce currency which will bring social approval. As long as we can buy social approval with currency we are no longer as susceptible to societal coercion. As long as our societies are non-existent, shunning and inclusion have no effect on us.

 

Excerpted from Autonomy, Diversity, Society. Citations will be transferred when I get a minute.