So after over six years of wishing I still had you all to talk to, I’ve decided to do something about it. Social media is exhausting, threatening, annoying and time-consuming, but interesting people are necessary and fun. Writing in an absolute vacuum is not fun and what I am writing is probably now unintelligible because I am so in my own head. So here’s my plan and it’s open for discussion.
For those who don’t know, I am writing a series of books all at once. It is kind of like being pregnant with a dozen babies at once but only being able to birth them at a rate of one every year or two. I’d give a lot to be able to speed up the process and get at least the first quartet finished and out there in months, not years. I also think I’d better start getting feedback before I hit publish on some of this.
In order to move at a reasonable speed, I need more time writing. Since my writing is (ahem) only appreciated by an exclusive audience, it doesn’t exactly pay the rent. Neither does it pay for such luxuries as decent book covers, translations, audio etc. If you’d like to help me deliver these books faster and in better form it would be very appreciated.
How I’d like to accomplish the above is by bringing back the Binding Chaos community and giving it a place to grow. I know a lot of you are very frustrated because you like the ideas but you have no one to talk to about them. A lot of you also would like to clarify some points or provide feedback and your emails and messages go unanswered far too often (sorry!).
So I am going to use a lot of the tools that Patreon now has (Discord, Discourse, WordPress limited access) and create a Patreon community where we can experiment with more open, two-way communication, where people can get involved at the level they choose but without the trolls and imaginative death threats of social media. Kind of like an epistemic community! Here it is, check it out.
I’m excited, I hope you’re excited and we can build something that really works for all of us.
An interview with Dr. Alex Lambert of Monash University for an academic research project “combining interviews with alternative social media developers with the managers of alternative urban creative spaces, bringing their perspectives on challenging entrenched power – be it in the form of business-focused urban planning or web platforms such as Facebook – into dialogue. In doing this, the study hopes to create practical new knowledge that will assist in the key challenges faced by both communities.”
Alex Lambert: Talk about what motivated you to develop your concepts of stigmergic action and decentralisation? Feel free to explore the ideologies / values that drive your work.
Heather Marsh: I wrote Binding Chaos and subsequent work in order to articulate what was not working and where I saw potential in various regional and global horizontal movements I was involved in over the last decade. Wikileaks had quickly become a personality focused, hierarchical organization and was both limited and ultimately derailed as a movement by that structure. The horizontal movements such as 15M and Occupy proved all of the problems with direct democracy and group affiliation outlined in the book. Many of these attempts at horizontal movements were easily derailed and dissolved; the rest became smaller, co-operative working groups and have enjoyed specific local success that has not easily scaled. The movements which set specific goals had far more success, at least in the short term achievement of those goals, as they were action based instead of personality based and could use stigmergy instead of hierarchy or cooperation. I used Anonymous to further an action based, stigmergic method of collaboration which followed ideas and it was very obvious that this was by far the most resilient and scaleable method of mass collaboration I had encountered.
In order to create movements which follow ideas, it is necessary to have access to and trust in information. An uninformed vote is a coerced vote; without access to and trust in information we have no alternative in mass movements but to blindly follow demagogues or ideologies or be completely immobilized. We are increasingly seeing all three of the latter situations as our access to and trust in information is increasingly eroded. A framework for developing open, collaborative information which can be transparently audited and receive feedback from everyone is essential for us to proceed in creating participatory governance. Democracy requires informed choice. The form of democracy we are currently governed by is increasingly built with patriarchy (the Robert Filmer kind), tyranny and secrecy, which is why it is giving way to populism and fascism all over the world. If democracy is to survive, it is essential that we create open epistemic communities and knowledge bridges to regain our trust, access and participation in knowledge. The survival of democracy in the face of growing fascism is a very big motivator for me.
AL: How do you see your work interacting with established, powerful platforms such as Facebook?
HM: There is currently a push in the EU and North America to hold tech corporations accountable for the dialogue and social networks built on their architecture. The current ‘quick fix’ to increasing sectarianism and lack of trust in information is to demand that CEOs of social media platforms take on the social responsibility not only of deciding official ‘Truth’ but also for forming our societies. Societies are formed by shunning and inclusion. Using tools ranging from permanent bans to blue check marks, a very few disinterested and unqualified CEOs are now expected to form our societies, to decide who to shun, who to include and who to amplify, by algorithm instead of dialogue. This is an abdication of responsibility by governments who should be providing the framework for societies to create themselves and it is an abdication of responsibility by societies who should never have delegated that responsibility to anyone, governments or corporations.
My goal is to remove both the burden and the authority of deciding official ‘Truth’ and facilitating shunning and inclusion of ideas or people from tech platforms. The responsibility and power of creating communal knowledge and society needs to be returned to our communities. Knowledge should be created by epistemic communities in open collaboration with affected user groups. The architecture of social media platforms is itself wrong for building knowledge. It is personality centred instead of information centred. In stigmergic movements, a personality centred platform will encourage people to follow demagogues and celebrities instead of ideas. Serious discussion needs to happen in information centred platforms. Societies should also have the power and fluidity to associate freely with the groups and individuals they choose which is the only way to avoid thought bubbles and increasing sectarianism. Allowing (or forcing) tech CEOs to replace these fundamental rights with an algorithmic dictatorship violates our basic freedoms in a democracy.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. (2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association.
AL: I am interested in the relationship between network design and culture. In your mind, what kind of culture does your work foster?
HM: Hopefully, open and collaborative culture! I want the right to access, use and modify information to be recognized as a human right, as necessary to attain our full potential or participate in our societies. Our societies are already far too complex and require far too much information processing for individual comprehension of any big topic. We now require mass collaboration to understand any aspect of society or to be able to rationally govern ourselves. I am trying to create a framework for a societal singularity, where expertise can be transparently audited and shared so we can regain not only access but also trust in information. To be trustworthy, the ability to create a body of knowledge must not be restricted to closed groups and the entire interested group must have the ability to audit and contribute feedback. An information centred platform can break the rigidity of social media thought bubbles to allow overlaying and cross-sectioning of different societies and belief systems. Horizontal governance means we can have democratic, regional choice, but transparent epistemic communities allow all of our choices to be informed by all of the information available.
AL: You mentioned your engagement with artistic projects, can you talk more about these?
HM: During breaks in my programming career I have been an artist in a variety of mediums. Artistic projects can sometimes express ideas in a far more more powerful and immediate fashion than words ever could. As a connoisseur of information with years of experience trying to amplify seldom heard voices, I believe art is an important and necessary facet of communication. Memes, cartoons, photographs and other work are extremely important as short information bursts that trigger an emotive or logical response in people, but they can also be used to manipulate people into responding contrary to the facts or their best interests. The use of memes to manipulate our responses has been extensively researched and refined by advertising and intelligence agencies for many decades. The use of memes cannot be avoided as no one has the ability, time, access or interest to research and analyze all information they encounter, so to avoid manipulation, memes must be easily linked to a body of knowledge that can be transparently and collaboratively audited. This is something I explored in information packages for Anonymous which would include a press release summary, collections of pre-made tweets with linked source information, short videos and memes, so people could choose their level of research before sharing the topic and it could be shared in any format. The powerful messages of work such as Ai Wei Wei’s Remembering, lies in the accuracy and facts of the numbers and history it represents. Art has the ability to instantly illuminate truth and make it easily accessible but the power of art is eroded and truth becomes propaganda if the audience cannot trust the underlying facts.
AL: What great challenges have you faced? What solutions have you developed?
HM: My ongoing challenge has been to amplify the most silenced voices in our societies. Atrocities happen in silence. Structures with power and secrecy at the top and fear and silence at the bottom have filled the world with atrocities against occupied people: those at the mercy of militaries, UN peacekeepers, churches or NGOs, those silenced by prisons, care facilities and criminal organizations, and those with no media access or respect. People are coerced by information far more than they are by military and empathy follows media exposure. Equal votes are meaningless without equal voices.
Lately the media has focused on ‘whistleblowers’ which are depicted almost exclusively as members of military or intelligence agencies reporting wrongdoing in their own organizations. This is despite the scarcity of such insider whistleblowers and the vast amount of victim whistleblowers who could and do also tell of the atrocities committed by these same organizations. Millions can be killed without leaving a paper trail or inspiring an insider whistleblower. While the imprisonment of John Kirakiou for reporting torture at Guantanamo was an abomination, the solution is not to create more places for CIA agents to inform their superiors or even the world of what they are doing. It is the people in Guantanamo and all the other CIA black sites that the world should never have left in silence. If we ensure no voices are ever silenced there will be no more need for institutional whistleblowers as intermediaries.
From 2010 until 2012 I was the administrator and editor in chief of Wikileaks Central, a global news site which was requested, announced, promoted, endorsed and hosted by Wikileaks but run autonomously and separately by myself. In 2010, mainstream news audiences and outlets largely refused to cover any news that was not focused on men with guns or interpreted by western male pundits and politicians discussing men with guns. Wikileaks was very useful as a vehicle to amplify voices and human rights stories that would normally be ignored. I could cover almost any human rights or protest topic by tying the news to information in the US state cables or other Wikileaks releases. Even the most tenuous connection would encourage journalists to pick up stories they would never normally touch so they could publish them with a picture of Julian Assange at the top and a quote from a US military source. After Wikileaks lost its usefulness for me, Anonymous became my preferred vehicle. Again, editors would publish human rights stories from around the world if they could use Anonymous in the headline and photo, allowing readers to project their assumptions onto the hooded silhouette and assume it was a story with an elite western man protagonist. The advantage to Anonymous is that anyone, from any demographic, could use it directly to obtain a platform.
In the last decade, the people and topics considered news worthy have undergone a transformation. Audiences are far more willing to listen to voices and stories they ignored ten years ago. Now the challenge is to move from personality-centric news amplification of social media to an information-centric framework and to move from a transient news cycle to the creation of permanent knowledge repositories. This will hopefully remove the focus on celebrities and trends and allow collaborative knowledge that can accommodate all voices and present a complete view of any topic.
AL: You critiqued the highly personal, ego-centric nature of social media, and this resonates with your point abut building epistemic bridges. What would social relations and identity look like in a non-ego centric or social group-centric network?
HM: The terminology I use is personality-centric vs idea-centric. An idea-centric knowledge structure would be built around points of knowledge: ideas, evidence, auditing, counter-analysis, etc., and the social relations, the people contributing ideas or research or the trust networks supporting their expertise, would be attached to the ideas and evidence as subsidiary information. In the personality-centric structures we have now, this is reversed. Ideas are promoted because they come from an official person or organization or celebrity. The source of the information, or the supporting facts and research, are subsidiary to the personality or unavailable to the public. We are being governed by ideas, and our access to ideas and information is currently controlled by those with social power. This creates an oligarchy instead of a democracy, as an uninformed or misinformed vote is a coerced vote.
In an idea-centric system the ideas and information receive the focus and those producing the best information (usually experts or those most affected) are promoted along with their ideas, without having to go through celebrity intermediaries or official channels. This freedom to bypass oligarchy is necessary in a democracy.
AL: My colleague who researches teen use of social media finds that young people call platforms like Instagram a ‘second home’. Can social media be both a home and a radical democratic epistemic community?
HM: No. An epistemic community should not in itself be a social grouping any more than any current scientific or journalist communities should be social groupings. Social groupings are personality-centric and somewhat closed; epistemic communities should be idea-centric and open. Social groupings are built around the need for social inclusion; epistemic communities must allow rejection of any work not deemed satisfactory. Ideas are not people; they have completely different requirements. One of the worst parts of platforms such as Twitter is this mixing of the two objectives so respect for a person leads to promotion of their ideas and rejection of a person results in rejection of their ideas.
From personal observation and the trend studies I have read, I don’t believe that young people currently still see social media such as Snapchat or Instagram as a second home – what year was your colleagues research? I think the current generation (Z?) is much more security conscious and bored or revolted by the Instagram-filtered, microcelebrity culture of their older peers. As advancements are made in collaborative education I believe we will see far more young people using social knowledge platforms (when we have one) for idea collaboration and secure messaging for their social interactions. Social media as a microcelebrity fame vehicle will hopefully become more specialized to the entertainment field it is suited to.
AL: You talk about the necessity of transparency. I have been thinking about this in terms of identity as well, as I feel anonymity can amplify trolling and other forms of ‘cyber-hate’ that negate democratic dialogues. Have you thought about this?
HM: Yes, of course! And I disagree, at least with the world as it currently is. As I mentioned earlier, the only way I could get editors and audiences to look at the stories I considered the most urgent in the world was by passing information through a western male avatar. Anonymity in the world today is the only way to bypass existing bigotries. A lack of anonymity in a personality-focused system will also very frequently inspire very misplaced trust based on reputation instead of work. As a woman and a career programmer, I can say with certainty that my work is judged in my field based on my reproductive organs and is far more accepted when they are assumed to be male. Or in the words of Alan Turing, “Turing believes machines think. Turing lies with men. Therefore, machines can’t think.”
The vast majority of hate in the world, from the Malleus Malleficarum forward, has been printed, published and promoted by powerful men under their own names. Anonymity is necessary to criticize the powerful, not to preach hate against those with less power. History and the fact that ’free speech’ is suddenly and for the first time since the printing press was invented taking a back seat to ‘fighting hate speech’ gives the following definitions for your terms:
cyber-hate: democratic speech
democratic dialogue: public discourse controlled by the powerful
AL: To answer your question, my colleague has actually been studying a group have been ‘growing up’ on social media for a while. Hence perhaps they are not the young generation anymore. Cultural context comes into these attitudes as well, I presume.
The cyber-hate (for lack of a better term) problem is by far the one that interests me the most. I agree that it is thoroughly gendered. These days in media and comms in Australia our classes are about 95% female.
HM: Wow!! Is that an anomaly? Where are the men? Are they not applying? How and when has this changed and why do you think? Do you feel this is temporary? How do you feel this has affected the classes, in terms of being a thought bubble, etc etc. How are your computer science classes?
AL: When #gamergate hit many students were writing about the fact that they felt silenced on platforms like Twitter.
HM: They were writing that they felt silenced … and you heard them …. and everyone heard all the other female journalists saying the same thing. I have been on twitter since it started and I have been a female journalist for many years and a woman offline all my life. Twitter is the first time I have ever been able to (if I wanted) say that I get daily messages from people who want to cut my head off and rape my neck, etc., etc. The messages aren’t new, I would get them in my desk at school even. This is just the first time there has been a platform I could say anything on or an audience who would listen. Twitter is the first predominantly female important media platform and created the audience for all those female journalism students you now have. Twitter forced Pax Dickinson, the Business Insider CTO, out of a job in 2013 for misogynist comments and many more since, including those on #ShittyMediaMen. (And that was when libertarian media men started suddenly being concerned about ‘the limits of free speech’ and paying women to write op-eds about awful bullying on Twitter. And ignoring the awful bullying of women in corporate media.) Twitter has also brought forward the #MeToo movement and many other campaigns such as #BringBackOurGirls #DelhiRape #TakeDownJulienBlanc or many I launched around 2013 such as #opRohingya, #opDeathEaters, and #opGabon. Michael Salter’s Crime, Justice and Social Media is worth a read on those campaigns.
I think using the fact that many women are saying they feel silenced on Twitter to blame Twitter is like using the fact that women are saying #MeToo on Twitter to blame Twitter. No one heard any of us say we were silenced for centuries by the printing press. Anonymity is a tool of the weak – women have used it for years online, as do any Rohingya activists giving evidence of the ongoing genocide. Monk Wirathu does not need or use anonymity to preach genocide and Putin / Trump / Kadyrov / Bannon do not need or use anonymity to preach misogyny.
AL: This seems to me to indicate democracy for men (at least in the gaming community), but not for women. Similar to your point about journalism.
HM: Of course, democracy everywhere was always for men (and includes race and class boundaries as well) but now we have platforms for talking about it.
There is another aspect to this topic though and it is a bit huge for this question, it would take books (some of which I am currently writing, will be posted on my blog eventually). Gamergate, and gaming in general, and social media, and for that matter the internet, has very strong ties with the intelligence communities of the world and the men’s rights movement which grew on the internet was probably the least organic or democratic social movement ever created. This is a huge topic but there is a bit of one aspect here and a bit of another aspect (specifically manufactured division around ‘white feminism’ and ‘trans rights activists’) alluded to in this quote from the Cambridge Analytica supergrass on Steve Bannon: “Smart. Interesting. Really interested in ideas. He’s the only straight man I’ve ever talked to about intersectional feminist theory. He saw its relevance straightaway to the oppressions that conservative, young white men feel.” There was also a very large push in the intelligence communities of the west for many decades to strengthen patriarchal religions (along with associated misogyny) in an effort to subvert communism. This is still happening even though it has already been overwhelmingly successful and even China is attempting to force women back into ‘traditional’ unpaid caregiver roles. A very large majority of the most extreme hatred I have experienced online and off containsbiblical or other religious references, even from street drunks when I was a child in a very secular place. I don’t see that changing with the rise of Bannon types pushing end-times religious wars and terrified of the fall of patriarchy. . (The former head of the US DIA linked in the video earlier also believes in end times prophecy with a giant religious war between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ – these are the people steering online dialogue. The ‘cyber war’ budgets are allocated for them to steer online dialogue in the directions they choose.)
The tl;dr is that the gender divide has been initiated and promoted at every step of the way by very undemocratic forces (see Malleus Malleficarum), and ‘feminism’ has been regularly co-opted, at least from the 1970s forward, to work for its enemies. What you are seeing, especially on the internet, does not necessarily have anything to do with democracy or human nature or organic social tendencies. It has much more to do with allowing secretive governance to control our online dialogue and access to information. Re gamergate trolls.
AL: Are epistemic, idea-centric, annonymous networks enough to stem this ingrained sexism (as well as other forms of bigotry)? Can these networks be coupled with progressive forms of governance?
HM: Anonymous networks alone would never work, they would be spammed to death. Pseudonymous networks supported by a trust network would work, when necessary, and that can make it difficult for group affiliation bigotries to take precedence over information. Concentric circles of epistemic communities and knowledge bridges are a framework, they are not a solution. The solution must of course rely on the people using that framework. This framework of transparent, audited, open, permeable information is, in my opinion, essential for horizontal governance and to avoid rule by demagogues and ideology. Voting is a tool; we are governed by information and it is open, collaborative information that needs to be a human right in a democratic government.
AL: In designing such a database architecture, do you also take into account the structural struggles that must enable equitable access and skilled use of the database? For example, struggles for internet infrastructure, technical skills training, and even training in critical humanities (say, around political philosophy)?
HM: Yes, because equitable access and benefit is the primary motivation for the project. It is essential that we not only avoid repeating the mistakes of the web but also work to correct them. There are two factors involved in equitable access, one architectural and one societal. Architecturally, it is my hope that organizing knowledge around subjects instead of organizations or people will create a more equitable and collaborative environment. Giving people the ability to create their own trust networks will hopefully result in networks of expertise beyond the institutional ones already established and allow more personal control and diversity of perspectives.
There is also a large societal shift that will need to happen before equitable access to use and create knowledge is a reality and recognized and supported as a basic human right. While I don’t believe this societal shift is possible without the architecture to support it, the architecture alone is not sufficient to change societal structure. It is my hope that collaborative, transparent, knowledge repositories will increase awareness of the need for information transparency and access, and result in an end to knowledge ownership and gatekeeping. This is a bit of a catch-22; people will hopefully realize that open, collaborative knowledge is necessary when they have it, but they will not work for it until they realize it is necessary. This is similar to internet access which had very little public interest initially but is now recognized as a basic human right for all. I think that lack of initial public interest and diverse perspectives harmed the creation of the web and is harming the creation of new internet structure as well. My plan is to create this project with a rotating board of directors, diverse both in background and geographically, and seek the input and involvement of as many people as possible throughout the early stages. That is very difficult to accomplish with no funding or institutional power. We also are in a time where the world’s governments are punishing tech behemoths for abusing control over our data by demanding that they exercise even more control over our data, a very cynical and ultimately disastrous approach. I am not sure what will convince the public how disastrous this road will be. Politically, there is no motivation for democratizing access to information since control over information is how we are governed.
The internet exacerbated existing power structures and created new ones through both access and initial interest. While outreach to prevent such power imbalances are necessary, it will never provide complete equality of access or understanding for every person on the planet and neither should it. Lack of equality in interest or ability should not cause an imbalance in power the way access to the internet has today. That is the point of the concentric circles of expertise and the layers of diverse interest and involvement in Getgee. Everyone can benefit equally from transparent, publicly audited knowledge without every person devoting the same personal resources to it in a system where knowledge is a shared commons instead of a resource to be hoarded and filtered in the sealed wells of corporate owned databases.
AL: I see something like a global workers movement, demanding education, universal income, and an end to inequality as perhaps necessary to ensure that a kind of Platonic ‘philosopher elite’ don’t become the experts that capture the network.
HM: Why global? Governance, in my opinion, should always be by the user group, which is usually local communities. My goal is to create epistemic communities that provide transparent, accessible, two-way knowledge for local communities to use as a resource. Epistemic communities are global but advisory only and information-centric, not closed, elite communities. With access to information, people can govern locally and collaborate globally. All information is available, but communities choose for themselves how they want to utilize that information. An example is the ebola crisis – global experts provided advice but made crucial errors, largely because the information flow was one-way. Local communities were able to assess that advice and replace the parts that were not working with their own solutions. A permeable and transparent epistemic community would have instantly incorporated the feedback of the local communities into available knowledge. Resilience against error requires diversity. The global blight of capitalism would be a lot easier to eradicate if we had a healthy selection of diverse alternative communities that already had mid-scale experience with different methods of resource allocation. A global ‘workers’ movement is communist internationalism centred around a trade economy and it requires a totalitarian state because many diverse communities will not agree on homogeneous government. Let’s not do that.
What is a worker? The traditional definition of that term is a person employed in the trade economy. That is someone fully invested in trade exploitation and willing to destroy communities and environment for ‘job creation’ and strengthening of corporations. Trade economy ‘workers’ are their own elite who act against the interests of community and land caregivers. ‘Workers’ are also people like the autonomous miners in Bolivia who recently abducted and murdered a Bolivian government minister because the government was trying to implement legislation to protect the environment and workers’ rights. The so-called ‘independent’ miners sell resources to multinationals while bypassing human rights and environmental legislation. ‘Workers’ in the eastern DRC mines are also militias that terrorize their communities and ‘workers’ in Nigeria’s Niger Delta destroy the surrounding drinking water and farmland by tapping pipelines. In a more regulated country like Uruguay, ‘workers’ garbage collection unions refuse to allow the country to recycle, cattle rancher ‘workers’ lobby to ensure that the price of seafood is sky high in a country that is mostly coastline and people are restricted from working on their own houses because that may cost jobs for the ‘workers’. In Canada, the ‘workers’ support destroying an area bigger than Greece to dig tar from an open pit mine and demand that other provinces allow their tar passage through other people’s environments. ‘Workers’ are the people who enable and fight for trade economy exploitation. I am much more interested in the needs of community and land caregivers than ‘workers’. I also want the needs of the elderly, children, those suffering health problems and any other non-’workers’ to be included.
Who would they be demanding this from? Participatory governance would mean they would be making their own decisions and creating their own solutions.
What is ‘education’? If you mean enforced state propaganda, it can be replaced by the kind of education you get from concentric circles and transparent, accessible knowledge. Knowledge bridges are educators. Open, transparent, epistemic communities would bring an end to the gatekeeping of expertise by academic institutions. As a current example, open software allows people to teach themselves to code and their code repositories and community reputations replace academic certification.
Why should inequality be ended and how would that be possible? My goal is to support inequality (otherwise known as diversity) and prevent inequality from creating inequity. So-called equality is really survival of the fittest since it does not recognize diversity of ability or interest. Forcing our diverse communities to live under an egalitarian trade economy has created great inequity. https://georgiebc.wordpress.com/2013/02/28/an-economy-for-all/
Philosopher elites are what we have now, except they are bought and paid for by states and corporations. Their expertise is a commodity available only to the elite and their expertise is not fit to use the name as it is incomplete without all the perspectives locked outside the circle of approved knowledge.
In an information driven system, it is expertise that is promoted, not experts. Expertise cannot be complete without input from all knowledge sources. It is to the benefit of anyone interested in an epistemic community to ensure the expertise is as complete and diverse as possible, encouraging greater input, not gatekeeping. Prima facie, no one can capture a network that is open, transparent and available as a universal human right. In today’s lived reality, your concerns are well grounded, however, as we see even in the free software movement. The best software does not win. The software that can afford to pay the best engineers to work the most hours wins. This is, however, a fault of the trade economy, not open information. Wikipedia bias and imbalance is a fault of the structure of the web, not open information. Open information is a first step to resolving these issues.
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.
Transcript (more or less) of keynote at RMLL, June 2017: We have free software. We need free databases. Discussing how to create a software ecosystem by decoupling information from applications with a universal database.
My name is Heather Marsh. I am a writer and a programmer and I have been studying and experimenting with methods of mass collaboration and the technology we use for 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 tying leaks to current news as a catalyst to create informed action. In 2012, I concentrated more on social media collaboration and I wrote a book called Binding Chaos about the methods of mass collaboration that were used to create mass movements. I am currently writing a book called Autonomy, Diversity, Society about some of the social issues and institutional structures preventing effective mass collaboration, particularly those involving knowledge industries like journalism, science and academia. And I am also developing a universal database and trust network called Getgee which will hopefully help with some of the issues I have been having for years around online collaboration.
So today I would like to first talk about how we collaborate online and then I would like to look at the technology we develop and how that affects collaboration. And then I’d like to review what a universal database is and why we need such a thing. These are all very big topics and I want to leave room for discussion at the end so I am going to touch very lightly on some areas. If you would like to know more about them, you can find me on youtube or my blog where these topics are explained in more detail, or read the books which are free online or send me an email.
What was it about the Internet that was so important and world changing?
Very often we think of the answer in terms of communication, but we don’t really communicate with all the people on the Internet on a one to one basis and reach consensus. This is a picture of what mass collaboration usually looks like, both online and offline. This method is called stigmergy as it says on the slide and I have written and talked a lot about stigmergy so you can find more information in my writing if you like, but basically, it is a method of action based collaboration that follows an idea.
If you look at this, there is no formal structure. There is just an idea or a goal that is reflected to everyone. This is the type of mass movement that can happen more or less spontaneously, sometimes very suddenly and very very effectively. Once this idea is released publicly, if people believe in it, they will follow it across cultures and generations and language barriers and it will be truly unstoppable. We have followed stigmergic movements throughout history for mass migrations, for adopting new technologies like pottery or Facebook, or for instilling moral principles or beliefs.
This isn’t the only method that can cause mass migrations and huge collaborative projects. For the last several thousand years, we have headed very relentlessly towards a very hierarchical and controlled structure for collaboration that happens very formally through appointed official channels and uses a system of sticks and carrots with coercion from military and money as rewards and punishments to drive us through these channels and direct our behaviour.
But the Internet allowed a sudden proliferation of stigmergic movements to spring up instantly and globally and scared a lot of powerful people very much and even removed some of them.
Imagine if these swallows were people – you can see why those trying to maintain authority would be very concerned, it doesn’t look like there is any sort of structure or predictability here. Communication on the Internet allowed us to return to this form of swarm movement which is really powerful, but at the same time very scary. In many ways, this looks like a new age of collaboration. We went from small local collaboration to highly structured so-called civilization and this is a whole new thing, even though stigmergy is a method of collaboration that has been with us forever, it has never been at this scale or speed. So it is important we learn how to help these movements guide themselves, and when we design tools that assume we are going to use direct communication or votes or consensus, they are not going to work for us, not for mass movements.
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 leading 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. So this initial seed that makes up the idea is the key to every mass movement.
If you look at this as a form of governance, we aren’t going to be governed by people, we are going to be governed by ideas. So our job in information technology is world governance. How we present and filter ideas directs these mass movements far more than politicians do. People will run in the mazes we give them to run in, so when we are designing tools for collaboration and communication it is very important that we get this right and think about the implications of what we are building. We have to allow people the freedom to rise above these mazes of official channels but still protect themselves from being coerced by propaganda and ignorance.
So with our new scary power of mass collaboration we have also seen a change in how powerful people are attempting to coerce these mass movements. The old way, or the most recent way, of directing movements was with hard coercion. You will follow this idea or you will be burned at the stake. And we can put money in there as hard coercion as well because you will work in this mine or you will starve is pretty violent as well. In this structure ideas were very carefully controlled. After the printing press was invented, only those ideas approved by someone with a printing press got mass dissemination and it was much easier to control what was distributed.
Once we had mass communication, on the Internet, that all changed fairly overnight and took a lot of existing power by surprise. So we instantly saw powerful people attempting to use all the usual hard coercive methods to control these ideas that are starting mass movements, like murdering bloggers and censoring the Internet, but it was pretty apparent that this was not going to be a sustainable long term global solution to keep people in power. So for the last several years we have had a huge focus put on what I call seductive coercion, manipulation of how we think and how we react to these ideas. Seductive coercion uses fear, belonging, shunning, all of our most deeply felt emotions to drive us towards or away from ideas.
The first and easiest way to counter ideas is to conflate the idea with a person or ideology. If someone puts up an idea and other people say oh, that’s funded by so and so, or that’s neoliberalism or Marxism, many people will turn away from the idea before they even try to understand it. Alan Turing once described the campaign against him as: Turing believes machines think. Turing lies with men. Therefore machines cannot think. Anyone who has been on social media long enough can recognize his frustration.
Another favourite counter is noise, you can’t follow an idea you never hear so if you have an idea that powerful people don’t like, they can just drown it out. And another counter is confusion. If an idea is at a level of expertise too specialized for the average person to prove whether it’s true or false, someone can just say it doesn’t work or it has been rebutted. If most of the public can’t prove it one way or another, they can just call it fake news. We are overwhelmed right now with seductive coercion as well as noise and confusion on our current social media platforms and the purpose is to try to control these ideas that are all important in seeding stigmergic mass movements.
I don’t think seductive coercion and noise is a long term solution for guiding people away from or towards ideas. I think most of us are thoroughly fed up with fake news and bot farms yelling at us every time we go near the Internet. We need information we can trust for stigmergic organization to work and we need stigmergic organization because that’s the only way we are going to progress on a large scale in the future. Misleading information will encourage people to act against their own interests but a lack of trust in any information will immobilize them or encourage them to blindly follow demagogues or ideology.
We can’t afford to waste time like this and I think even many powerful people are starting to realize that maybe a very easily led public is not such a great thing after all. Theresa May keeps saying “Make no mistake, the fight is moving from the battlefield to the internet.” but she and others are recommending fighting with the old methods of hard coercion, they are calling for even tighter control over information and more official channels. This is an attempt to go backwards and we have burnt that bridge, we have no path open now but the one forward.
So the third method here is auto-coercion, coercion of each other as an informed society, which is a swarm method of reaching consensus. This is where I would like us to head and this is what, in my opinion, we need to be building technology for. We may or may not have reached a technological singularity yet but we have certainly reached a societal singularity. We need to collaborate with others even just to understand the news. We can’t all be experts at everything. So we can’t keep berating voters for not spending all of their time studying everything that affects them or electing politicians and expecting them to have all the answers. It’s impossible. We need to find a better solution. We need technology that allows us to put our faith wisely in information and this is going to require a completely different set of rules than the hierarchical official channels we have used in the past.
Ideas need to be audited and promoted by people qualified to understand them so I use this structure of concentric circles with epistemic communities in the centre and knowledge bridges to assist information flow and auditing. 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. Unless you don’t, in which case experts can also be created by the system itself as users develop knowledge and reputation and move towards the centre. Disagreements can result in a separate concentric circles being formed around the same problem to explore a different solution. If this all sounds familiar, it’s because this is exactly what happens in open source software communities.
Currently, other knowledge communities act like closed, internationally linked, affinity groups at a level of expertise not accessible to the general public. Science, academia and journalism are very far from acting as concentric circles and knowledge bridges integrating ideas back and forth with wider society so stigmergic action rarely results from their work and without stigmergy, their progress is not nearly what it could be. A people with no confidence in either their epistemic communities or their knowledge bridges is a people with no belief in ideas, and with no belief in ideas we will be immobilized or ruled by demagogues or ideology. Science, academia and journalism require two way knowledge bridges, transparency and free information if they are going to truly act as epistemic communities for us all and stimulate and inform mass action and they also require information focused technology to support them in that. So let’s look at where we went wrong.
We no longer live in a world dominated by either resource capitalism or industry. We live in a world dominated by information capitalism and information control.
“Data is the new oil” is a quote that has been going around investment circles for over 10 years now but data is more than just a product. With oil you could acquire money to drive people along the paths of hard coercive structures. With data you can lead far more people with seductive coercion or block them with noise and confusion. But even for people who haven’t quite grasped that information in this form can be used to wag the tail of an entire mass of humanity behind it, most people realize data is lucrative.
The last I checked, Alibaba was worth 265 billion US dollars. Amazon is worth over 400 billion. Even Uber is still worth 60 billion. Who has any idea what Facebook and Google are worth because they actually have mastered the true value of information. What makes all of these corporations so powerful and valuable is their control of information. When the world wide web was designed, it was a picture of academia. It was meant to allow isolated papers to cite other isolated papers, but the internet does not look like that. Those early pages have been used to create an Internet as a series of sealed wells. Even if we have access to everything on the surface, we do not have access to the information in these wells and to add insult to injury, we created all the information in those wells. And that data is used for public manipulation and seductive coercion, in ways ranging from monitoring our shopping habits to Facebook deciding to what mood we are in or whether we vote. That data under corporate control decides whether we are talking about political failures or Romphims and whether the resulting stigmergic actions are related to community support or consumerism.
No one should be gifting their innermost thoughts to allow coercion of public opinion by 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’. Of course, this is not news to anyone here, but even though we all realize this, we haven’t been able to stop it.
The failure to replace the existing data mining platforms is partly the failure to differentiate between different types of data and their different requirements, so let’s go over that first.
Personal data: The goal here is security against dissemination. Ideally, we want to keep this off the Internet and if that is not possible, encrypt it and keep it under your control and easily deleted.
Personal messaging: The goal here is to know who you are talking to and keep your conversation private, so we treat this like personal data and add the fact that we need to be sure of who we are talking to.
Personal information and private messaging have both had had a lot of investment and thought put into them over the years. If we can get this data split out from the corporate data wells, we have a lot of options for this, like personal online data storage, and many similar options. These work but …
The idea here is you keep all your personal information in your own little PODS and it is always under your control and you choose where to share it and what to share, which is as it should be. But in a way this reminds me of when people were told they no longer had to work as slaves or serfs because they were free and could choose when to work for money. But then they found out that all the food and shelter was controlled by the money sources so it became not much of a choice, work or starve. And if all we do is take control of our own personal information, if we want to access other information and it is controlled by corporate interests, we will end up giving over our keys. And there will be no legal protection because we will be doing it voluntarily. Supposedly. We see this already in data access, we have the ability to block ads or cookies but then we get our access to information blocked so we don’t. So it is not enough to address personal data, we have to address public data as well.
The answer for public data is the same as personal data, we need to decouple application software from the data to regain control and we need some sort of a data commons. There is a huge wealth of data on the internet right now that is not personal data but it shouldn’t be corporate data either, it is our information that we have produced collaboratively over many years. If we are ever going to move towards an open information system with concentric circles and knowledge bridges and collaboration open to everyone, we are going to have to achieve this, off a corporate web platform, so let’s look at our data types again.
Personality focused we don’t really need to look at, we’ve got that covered. The goal in a personality focused platform is promotion of personalities (or brands), so official blue checks and followers assembled around social media reality shows. Social media is almost universally personality focused and that is why social media is so frustrating for anyone attempting to collaborate around information.
With Information focused data, the goal is research, auditing and dissemination of information. At best we can use Wikipedia, mainstream media sometimes and specialized research platforms. There is a huge need for information centred solutions, especially when you consider how many people are trying to facilitate this work on personality focused social media and how frustrating this is. Social media was created in a time when we left all information focused work to the experts, but especially twitter immediately became a place where everyone got involved and tried to create concentric circles of auditing, feedback and amplification, but because it is focused around personalities instead of information it is forever frustrating for this use.
Public data. The goal here is freedom from censorship or other deletion or modification. So the dead opposite of what should be the goals for personal data and if someone is offering you the solution to both on one platform, run as fast as you can. Most applications with a primary goal of making data public use peer to peer with or without blockchain, or censorship resilient platforms of some sort. It is very easy to put up public data in a very resilient and even semi-immutable way on a peer to peer system.
The problem is, if you combine this need with Broadcasting we have an added goal of wide dissemination. You can put information up, but getting a lot of people to find it is difficult unless traditionally you have some sort of index that will search through this data and offer some sort of centralized list. The last time someone did that on a large scale they called it Google. As soon as you have a centralized index like that, your data can be as decentralized as you like, all that means is you get to pay for hosting. If you still can’t be found except by going through the indexing server then we still have a problem of centralization. There are other methods of finding each other, but with other issues, which we’ll get to under collaboration.
Broadcasting is also where we get too much misinformation, spam, noise, confusion, seductive coercion, all those things we talked about earlier. The way many information producers and politicians, and sadly some regulatory bodies, want to tackle this is to attach DRM at the data level with the goal of preventing copying or facilitating built in micro-payments. This is again an attempt to take us back to that highly regulated structure that we already burned the bridge from and the implications in this case are too seriously dystopian for me to even start to get into here.
If we want a world where the general public is both participating in and trusts expert information – and we do, the lack of an informed public is the biggest issue facing us today – we need to get away from this idea that anyone is going to own information or the access to it. Information has to be a basic human right for all, it is our key to understanding our world. There is no point in being able to vote if we don’t understand what we are voting for.
Another point we have to deal with for public data is the typical peer to peer application is Read only for fairly obvious reasons. If you want to design a Collaborative platform that can scale, your concerns are going to be things like latency compensation, optimistic UI, speed, and the ability for multiple simultaneous editors. All these goals of a seamless collaborative front end performance do not correlate with a back end trying to serve peer to peer data. So broadcasting collaborative public data is a tough one.
Then we have the whole structural issue. A lot of people feel the solution to the data mining wells we saw earlier is federation or a form of decentralization that allows everyone to run their own instance of an application. First of all, we can all stand up our own wikis but Wikipedia exists, centralization happens. Second, the goal here is to escape dependency on one server or platform, but most of these solutions just create multiple little centralized servers or platforms, each with their own tyrannical or benevolent admins. They also make your data impossible to delete if they are linked to other instances and by eliminating central control they also eliminate central responsibility that you can complain to.
These alternatives are usually addressing technical issues and ignoring the personal ones. A microblogging instance, a sub-reddit and an irc channel are all technically very different but they all feel very alike and they are all trying to be all things to all people. Their users do not have control of the data, but it isn’t truly 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 the data is not decoupled from software. They don’t support mass collaboration and they create thought bubbles where outside opinions aren’t welcomed.
So Decoupled data is where I think we need to go before anything to handle all the very different and frequently opposing requirements of these different types of information. The goal here 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. For this we need a universal database which is why I am working on that.
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. And I really believe that this isn’t a “here is a great marketing opportunity” need it is a “will we avoid human extinction” need, we are completely programmed by the information we receive and if we want to avoid errors on a massive scale we need to provide our new mass movements with accurate information that they can trust.
Now we have covered what we need and why we need it, all we have to is design it with the technology available to us today.
We need a set of core data objects to be in a public data commons. These are the objects that link all of our information together. In my research with existing applications, there are five types of data object that we deal with which are Person, Event, Organization, Idea and Thing. In addition to this there are media objects which we use as sources for our information. So our public, universally accessible, read only, data consists of these objects.
We also have classification standards of different types of these data objects and the possible relationships between them. Again, anyone can create classification trees but once they are used by a third party they can’t be deleted or modified. Once you share an idea you can’t delete it from anyone else’s brain, it is now commons data.
Universal data objects are pretty meaningless if we don’t actually say anything about them. So constellations are a collaborative space where we establish relationships between data objects, link media sources to support the relationships and classify data objects and their relationships. This is our own autonomous space but if you click on a universal data object it will show you all the constellations that have used that data object. If you clicked on an event node for this conference, it could show a constellation for all free software conferences this year, all software conferences in France, all events in St Etienne in July, any constellation that included this event node would be listed. So even though this is a collaborative space which allows you to decide who you want to work with, the results are transparent and easily found by anyone looking at any topics that you’ve referenced.
Which is nice except we really don’t want to see all the data on the Internet. Neither do we want to leave it up to a centralized index what we see, so we need a trust network to help us filter spam and people we don’t find very knowledgeable and that trust network needs to be under our control. A trust network means if we set our search to 0 degrees of trust we will only see data that we personally have explicitly trusted. If we set it to one degree we will see data trusted by those we trust and so on. This is great for those people who say they want open science and open knowledge but really they are uncomfortable without official accreditation. They can filter their own information by whatever accreditation they choose, but they can’t stop the other information from existing and they can’t stop anyone else from seeing it.
This also brings mass collaboration back because we don’t have to personally know everyone we are working with if we are careful with our trust network. If someone sabotages a work project, obviously they are going to be untrusted very quickly by whoever brought them in or that person will be untrusted themselves, but there is no need to reach consensus over who is or isn’t trustworthy and assign them a blue check, we all decide for ourselves whether someone else’s network is worth linking to our own.
So now we have all of this information in a data commons which can be linked together and sourced, so we have transparency and multiple viewpoints. No one can create a thought bubble and filter out information but they can choose not to see it themselves or work with it if their network deems it untrustworthy.
So now we have broken everything up and we no longer have a web page or an app, we have an ecosystem. At the bottom we have a universal data commons of public data which contains all of our core data objects. Also universal are the classification trees which data analysts can create to help us provide more meaning and classification standards. Then we have our collaborative space where researchers, journalists, scientists, lawmakers, organizers, or anyone else can create meaningful information from all this data without harassment from spam but with full transparency to the public. And we have our personal trust networks where if we choose, we can set filters on what we see.
Now you can search, merge, and filter that data to get only the information you need. Suppose you want a taxi driver. You can merge taxi driver collective constellations, you can search for ones in your area and then you can filter them within two degrees of your trust network. Then you can download that read only galaxy onto your phone, download an app that shows you which of them are near and pays them. And we just took the last sixty billion dollars worth of value from Uber and put local control back with taxi driver collectives. Software application become simply that, easily replaceable applications which provide some functionality such as paying a taxi driver or buying a product. They have no control over data any more and they can be easily replaced.
Instead of transient news, new information is added to a permanent knowledge repository so it encourages deeper research over trivial updates. There is no need to cut and paste the same news repeatedly if it is all linked. We can have more fluid collaboration between journalists because they retain autonomy and credit for their own work but their research is automatically linked with everyone working on the same topic and it can be combined in galaxies. Because the data is in a usable format instead of just wall of text articles, we can import it to other applications and combine and filter it to create more information. So we get far deeper meaning and more context and usability and collaboration from the same research effort.
Organizations can use constellations and galaxies for dynamic reorganization. The responsible person can change at the constellation level and the change will be instantly reflected in all associated galaxies. It is also easy to plug in collaborative apps at the galaxy or the constellation levels to allow groups to work without outside noise but remain completely transparent to the public.
Rather than relying on site reviews and trust algorithms we can rely on our own personal trust networks for recommendations. Local or specialized merchants can create constellations to link each other together in a trust network as well, adding another local layer of accountability and control over industry and the ability to allow regional diversity for local laws or customs.
Instead of relying on NGOs, charities and non-profits, we can use our own trust networks to provide aid directly where it is needed and receive feedback directly from those receiving aid.
We can establish direct trade relationships between communities which will allow consumers to see the immediate impact of our trade choices.
Instead of a closed circle of academia in which paper citations can be reflections of power or reciprocity, Idea nodes can be set up around any topic and all contributions heard.
Principles of a society from constitutions and bills of rights can be easily accessible for every member of society and we can then ensure that all law in that society flows naturally from the accepted root principles. It is also possible to use accepted principles to choose association, for instance to refuse trade with a corporation that refuses to accept certain environmental or human rights practices.
With a universal data commons we can collaborate effectively and intelligently and solve the problems we are facing with far greater speed and accuracy. We can all be much better informed and able to easily see the original sources and all related information on a subject from all perspectives. This will provide us with the ability to be self correcting, even in our mass movements. We can have auto-coercion.
The Internet is being redesigned. This is a moment when we urgently need to design our own Charter of the Forest and establish our rights around our commons information. We had this moment before when the Internet first appeared and it seemed destined to become a corporate controlled platform and we made possibly the best decision in our history by having the Internet be a global commons, which is now recognized as a universal human right, but the only reason access to the Internet is important is because it provides access to information. The only reason freedom of speech is important it it allows us to transmit information. We need to recognize information itself as a universal human right and write code that facilitates that. I think I’d better stop here so there is hopefully some time for questions but if anyone is interested in this project, or you know someone who may be interested with this project, please contact me.
Transcript (more or less) from The evolution of democracy: Explaining Trump, Brexit and the Colombia peace deal, a keynote to launch the 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
“In 1968 people like Habermas, Marcuse, and Roszak invited us to see the role of scientific rationality in the maintenance of the existing social order and to examine critically whether that was the role which we wished expertise to play…. On the whole, we failed. … What was just about escapable then seems inescapable now.” – Robert Young, 1984i
The discouragement of those who have been in the trenches of the radical science movement for over half a century is understandable. Accepting defeat is not an option, however. Society without science, and without an effective way to integrate epistemic communities, will always be a society dissociated and easily controlled. Society with integrated scientific and epistemic communities may even yet save itself.
For years, science fiction writers and scientists have been enthralled with the idea of a technological singularity. They have looked forward to a day when technology will be beyond the scope of human understanding and artificial intelligence will be programming itself. Instead, we have reached a societal singularity where no one can understand every aspect of society which affects them We need to collaborate with others to create or develop products and 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. We need to somehow create nuanced and detailed information we can trust and coordinate goals with people we will never speak to.. Our societies are all connected now at some level with all of the other communities in the world, including even uncontacted tribes. This singularity is both unacknowledged and a core part of our societal functioning (and malfunctioning). Not only knowledge based industries but every level of governance depends on our management of communication and trust. The lack of integration between knowledge and the public is crippling our progress.
Representative governance and both the Great Man and the identitarian views of history present all human interaction as personality based. If there are community conflicts, our institutions assume the problem is one of personality management which can be solved by law enforcement. If social issues aren’t addressed, representative democracy assumes a demographic is under represented. Collaboration in a personality based system can only be by authority or consensus. Most workers do not enjoy authoritarian systems as they lose autonomy, mastery and creative control over their own work and rule is by coercion, not choice. Consensus is ideal for small, local, like-minded affinity groups, but it only works in groups of under twenty-five people, preferably two to eight. Consensus is not useful for large scale collaboration or collaboration that is separated by communication barriers or over time.
Neither knowledge based industries nor governance ought to be personality based and neither can operate effectively in that way. The goal of all knowledge industries, including governance, is to stimulate the public to action. The only effective and voluntary large scale method of action based collaboration is stigmergy1 and stigmergic action follows ideas, not personalities. Since knowledge industries want to trigger stigmergic actions, they ought to be focused on ideas.
Currently, knowledge communities act like closed, internationally linked, affinity groups at a level of expertise not accessible to the general public. Affinity groups are personality based and allow expertise to be held by gatekeepers controlling information flow between groups. While local, self-governing, affinity groups should have the ultimate authority of acceptance or rejection of ideas, they all need access to the expertise of international epistemic communities in order to make the choices which are right for them. A structure which allows gatekeepers to control information flow will create both demagogues and an easily manipulated public. Epistemic communities that develop and audit ideas should use transparent and permeable concentric circles to integrate ideas from the epistemic communities directly with the public.
In a governance context this means we won’t be electing personalities, we will be electing ideas. We won’t have representatives for groups of people, we will have concentric circles around ideas.
Academic and scientific journals were created so that everyone would publish and build off of each others findings, guiding stigmergic action. In reality, most research is not open source, it is frequently corporate IP property and it does not allow permissive copyright or even access. Outside contributions and auditing is not rewarded or even allowed. Science and academia are very far from acting as concentric circles integrating ideas with wider society. Their closed communities allow their work to be easily controlled by politicians and industry and very little stigmergic action results from it. Without stigmergy, their progress is not nearly what it could be. Science and academia require knowledge bridges, transparency and free information if they are going to truly act as epistemic communities for us all and stimulate mass action.
Stigmergy is a method of collaboration for mass movements, not organizations. The civil rights movement in the United States was a stigmergic movement which retained its clarity through successive generations because it set specific goals in each cycle, whether that was to end slavery, end segregation, or end police violence. When feminism meant fighting for the vote and legal personhood it also had a clear goal and was also a stigmergic mass movement, but second wave feminism allowed its goals to become very loose. Because there wasn’t a clear goal, second wave feminism 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. When feminism stopped following ideas, it stopped being a stigmergic movement and became a competitive, personality driven organization which then became completely divided, as is typical. Personality based organizations do not scale.
Stigmergy is made up of collaborative actions, not identitarian organizations or people. All identity politics results in personality based organizations which is why so many resistance movements, especially in the United States, collapse due to infighting. If mass movements rallied to stop rape, or street executions by police, or contamination of water, they would be very widely supported and unstoppable. Personality based organizations claiming victimhood as the exclusive product of one identity group have succeeded in stopping mass movements around all of these these stigmergic goals.
Stigmergy can scale to an entire population if support for an idea is unanimous and identity politics is not used to drive people away. Because stigmergy follows ideas, ideas are as important in stigmergy as personality management is in organizations. The single biggest factor for whether or not someone will participate in a stigmergic action is whether they are sure of the idea behind it. Whether it affects them, or if its simple to grasp or easy or even safe to do matters very little compared to their belief in the goal. This means the easiest way for someone to prevent action is to sow doubt in the goal. Finding the information we need for conviction in our goals in the collaborative structures we use today is not easy.
Most of the tools we have to help mass communication simulate direct democracy and look for popular ideas, the most shares and the most readers. 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.ii The more easily understood and the less challenging the message, the wider its appeal will be. 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. We need both expert and diverse knowledge. 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 again the exact opposite of what we ought to be doing. This is what direct, representative and liquid democracy do however, so of course it is also what the tools for democracy have been doing. We have tools for voting, tools that are very useful to find out what a population thinks and tools that are great for discussing things in affinity groups and coming to consensus, but we need to also go to where 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 people qualified to understand them both to allow diversity of ideas and to prevent the process from being dominated by celebrities without the expertise required. 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, like we have now. 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 findings will be audited, amplified and explained to the general public by outer circles. Concentric circles 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 an idea receives no amplification, it is just an idea that goes nowhere.
“I wonder if the world is full of middle-aged people still waiting for their peers to take in the full range, depth, subtlety, and profundity of their work.” – Robert Youngiii
With knowledge bridges, everyone does not need personal expertise on every aspect of society. As long as there is a transparent concentric circle, everyone can see the activity and get feedback if necessary. If there are a lot of people auditing and a lot of discussion and if the observers trust some of the people in these circles, they can trust the process and the ideas. 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. This happens increasingly if users lose trust and they realize they need to start auditing a circle.
The vast majority of scientific and academic work is ignored as the public has no access or understanding and the scientific community has no time to examine everything. With a wider circle of auditors, outside the community of competitive peers, this work would not all be lost. Instead of doctors ignoring their patients for the latest paper from their colleagues or funding from the powerful, knowledge bridges would encourage community driven knowledge and research. Psychologists should not have the sole authority to decide what is normative. Anti-social or social acts should be decided by the society itself. Pharmaceutical industries and medical professionals cannot be allowed to ignore the lived experience of groups such as the Hearing Voices Network and Aphrodite Women’s Health forum. Science, even where it uses isolation, must also be tested as a part of the whole, and even where it relies on peer review, must be fully open to review and contribution by the wider society.
Science will tell us that the population of an isolated community has shrunk 3.5 centimetres in the last century. If they asked the people in the village, they may hear that one man was 5’4” and had 27 children and almost the entire town are now his direct descendants, but in today’s structure they rarely ask. Science will tell us that a woman died of a heart attack. Her village could tell us that she died of a broken heart because her son died. Science tells us how, but without the village, we will never understand why. Science today is not asking the village. They are too busy telling everyone that people can’t die of a broken heart and sneering at superstitious villagers. As Paul Richards outlines in Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, ebola was not being spread by eating wild meat as the international experts claimed. Villagers noticed it was the people who attended funerals who contracted the disease and adjusted their behaviours more effectively on their own. If the international epistemic community studying ebola had been communicating with the local affinity groups dealing with ebola, they all would have been a lot more effective. Instead of providing a one way flow of near useless information, researchers could have been acting as an integrated epistemic community and a valuable resource.
No one is or should be more afraid of the mob, of mob norms and mob decisions, than those outcast on the fringes. For those accepted into the scientific community, it is frequently the first social gathering where they can share their knowledge and interests and the only place they can speak freely with others at their level of knowledge on their topic of interest. If they guard the borders of their nation it is not solely from xenophobia. Without isolation from the public, scientists and other specialists have a very valid fear that they would no longer be permitted to work. The marauding hordes which some fear would overrun science and persecute a scientific minority do pose a very existential threat. With no society which understands their work, scientists would be marginalized, their social approval stolen by demagogues and their work misunderstood or lost. In a larger community, all would demand equal and democratic amplification on topics far beyond their understanding. The wider public will always be resentful of any research support they see as self indulgent and this resentment will be used politically. Particularly where there is no public access or obvious public merit, the public will never willingly fund science or elite knowledge. When information is controlled by demagogues, what is important loses to what is popular.
When left out in isolation, user groups can be as guilty of group narcissism as the scientists they criticize. As psychoanalysts looked to parenting as the cause of scizophrenia and other illnesses as part of their vilification of mothers, feminists seized anorexia nervosa and anorexia bulimia as evidence of the body shaming culture women and girls lived in. The physical areas of investigation such as hypoglycaemia and associated yeast infections and digestive issues were spurned as reams of paper and mainstream media was filled on this far more lucrative and politically satisfying line of inquiry.iv Any scientific finding that endorses popular bias will receive far more media attention, approbation and funding than that which discredits popular bias. Scientific or academic findings which strengthen identitarian groups will be spread and encouraged by those identitarian groups. Even science likes being appreciated and will respond to public acclaim. Wider community influences on science must guard against the biases of scientists, not promote their own. Science and all specialized study requires autonomy from popularity. Complete transparency is required so media does not selectively report and science does not selectively research in response to political pressure.
Any specialist epistemic community cannot produce any work of value if they are expected to be in constant communication with people at a level of understanding far below their own. Neither can they produce work if they are fending off political attacks by demagogues. Communication should not be the full responsibility of experts. The current demand for people in knowledge industries to go on speaking tours, delivering sound bites like performing monkeys, is a waste of their expertise and forced crowd pleasing for survival. Epistemic communities should be allowed to work and to communicate only when they choose, to whom they choose.
While every epistemic community requires a quiet place to discuss work with those at a similar level of understanding, and no expert should be required to submit themselves to the “lol. Fake news.” level of Internet discussion, their work should be both completely transparent and accessible for others to discuss and build on. Their 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. In addition, the epistemic communities themselves must be completely permeable to anyone with valuable input. It is only by allowing oppositional thought and transparent auditing that expert communities can protect their ideas from being blocked by uninformed demagogues.
Popular instances of political demagogues overthrowing expert recommendations rely on simple sabotage. The opponents to the Colombia peace deal and Brexit had no better alternatives devised, any more than most politicians seeking election have reasonable platforms. Platforms are less and less a focus in elections in any case, as media and public attention is taken over by discrediting attacks instead of alternative solutions. Science cannot be allowed to be discredited by ignorant demagogues. Like free software, existing science should only be opposed by alternative theory which can meet the same standards of scientific rigour. Science cannot prove that vaccinations are safe, so vaccine safety should only be opposed by those who can prove they are not. It is only possible for science to be opposed by worthy rebuttals if it is within the power of everyone to make worthy rebuttals, if their work is also reviewed and they have the access required to audit and investigate.
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, and 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 is how people are learning to code. Good ideas from forum discussions can be read and possibly implemented by the developers as well. Transparency goes both ways.
Open source software projects 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, input, 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. This means existing ideas can only be opposed by another fully developed, open and transparent epistemic community which also must be audited by knowledge bridges. They can’t be attacked just by demagogues and rhetoric. They 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. This is only possible if the information is free for anyone to use or modify. Ownership of ideas is in complete opposition to both stigmergy and concentric circles, so it is in complete opposition to rapid progress, finding the best solutions and self governance.
The open software movement has driven most technology based fields into a flat and accessible relationship with the public and social media has done the same for journalism. As people become more accustomed to real and participatory news and culture, they will demand the same of science and academia. As science and academia develop their own direct relationships with their user communities, they will be in a position to shun those in industry or politics who refuse to support them or attempt to manipulate them. Politicians and industrialists are not necessary in a fourth age societal structure. Knowledge industries are and it is essential that local affinity groups learn how to communicate and support them directly.
We can never have idea and action based governance without the reliable information provided by fully open, transparent, epistemic communities and knowledge bridges. The ability to create a body of knowledge for review must not be restricted to one class. Access to and ownership of our knowledge must be a human right.
1 Stigmergy is explained in greater detail in both Binding Chaos and Releasing Chaos.
Patriarchal control of women’s bodies is frequently explained as an issue of property ownership. Not just the women themselves but also any offspring were considered assets to be disposed of and therefore a source of power. Any attempt by women to limit reproduction was seen as a threat to the potential wealth of the family and society.
Today, there are far easier ways to control people than by reproducing them. Waged labour combined with institutional work slavery such as prison labour, university interns or forced volunteer work for those on social assistance gives the ability to demand labour from others with no social relation to the masters. Very little of the world’s population is now employed in direct service to the very rich in any case. Most are looking for a share of resources themselves and increasingly, posing a threat to the lifestyles of the very rich, particularly now that mass communication and organization enable great crowds in the streets worldwide pointing out their superior numbers. Increasing automation and overpopulation mean industry no longer needs the population growth we are experiencing so both motherhood and children have experienced a sharp devaluation in society. Industry has gone from punishing contraception, abortion and infanticide by death to trying to forcibly sterilize women. Women are caught in a war between those still dictating that women must have children and those dictating that they must not. China forces abortions[cite] while Ireland refuses them[cite]. Choice is lost and children are economic pawns instead of part of a society. At neither side is the support of motherhood or childhood considered at all, only the power to reproduce or not.
Women’s reproduction can be regulated by limiting access to birth control and forbidding its use, as well as making it impossible for women to survive without a family structure which includes heterosexual sex, but this only serves to increase reproduction. A society that wishes to decrease reproduction typically needs to make it disastrous to reproduce, historically by making it impossible to protect yourself while pregnant or to protect small children once they are born. Today, children are killed by states constantly and very publicly and dismissed as simply ‘collateral damage’. A very short time ago, the death of a child was considered by western society to be a non-debatable tragedy, an evil so pure and complete its evil was never questioned. This mindset was first altered by a persistent campaign during the US war against Iraq to depict Iraqi children as bomb carrying subhumans created by their parents only for the purpose of death. ‘They do not value life’, ‘They would rather die than live’, and ‘Iraqi children are not like ours’, became the new truths that western society was convinced to accept.
As always, the minority persecution then spread much more easily to a societal truth. Israeli soldiers are taught to kill anything that moves[cite]. The US military boasts of new guidelines that “opened the aperture” to considering children of any age legitimate targets[cite]. The children lost their humanity in the eyes of society and become objects. This change is probably illustrated nowhere better than on the U.S. police targets depicting “non-traditional threats” including pregnant women and children. Societal dissociation is complete with the police officer who stated he enlarged images of his own children for target practice “so that he would not be caught off guard with such a drastically new experience while on duty.”[cite] If not his own children, what society is it his duty to defend? The message is clear. People are paid to kill people. People are not paid to give birth. It is more socially acceptable to kill people than to give birth to people. Genocides are being fueled the world over on the premise that populations are growing too quickly and women are under particular attack as the source of population growth.
The increasing amount of slave labour involved in producing the labour force is also an effective deterrent to lifegivers and caregivers. Most workers are required for knowledge industries so caregivers are directed by the state to train their children to a far higher level, still with no compensation for their labour and at much greater expense to themselves. Giving birth no longer entitles the parents to any assistance from the people they raise, as those obligations are theoretically taken care of by systems of dissociation such as retirement funds and insurance. The work, risk and financial burden of producing the work force is all on the parents and the benefit is all for corporations.
While a capitalist who invests in anything that produces income is entitled to a return on investment, women who produced the entire work force have received none. In a world where society has been commodified, the return on investment is highly discouraging. Economic freedom is more available now (although unequal) for women but not for children and dependents who are still left unaccounted for by the economic systems imposed on society. In Japan the declining birth rate has reached a crisis point in a state that refuses to ease immigration restrictions. It has been suggested that women should be forced to contribute to society in another way if they refuse to give birth. Since Japanese women already work in the trade economy exactly like men, it would be interesting to see what social contribution would be considered comparable to lifegiving and caregiving, and whether it would receive pay[cite].
Not only is the trade economy structured to make lifegiving and caregiving very costly choices, mothers are depicted as parasites on society and a despised class. The term single mom today is as derogatory as unwed mother was in the past, the morality offended being not in the lack of marriage but in the possible dependency on social support. In the west, women supposedly have lifestyle choices but only if they make the choice to have extremely few or no children and a career or a wealthy partner. A single mother on welfare is treated as the most contemptible creature within the law. Parasites are hated as they weaken the host. The trade economy does not recognize that all men and women parasited off of their mothers in a very physical reality in order to exist. Underlying every patriarchal society and the trade economy is the idea that lifegivers should be grateful to the society for letting them and their offspring live. This is a complete reversal of biological fact.
Who gets to decide when dependency is to be despised? The excuse that infants did not consent to being born so are exempt from judgment is disingenuous as no one chooses to be dependent on society. Dependency is a natural part of the human experience and mothers are not creating dependency, they are relieving society of the vast majority of responsibility for it. Unlike every other dependency, society would not exist without infants. The propaganda depicting mothers as parasites is coming from the true economic parasites, deflecting blame onto their victims. The statement that people did not ask to be born is an attempt to diminish the mother’s contribution, or make it something to condemn in order to deny any reciprocal obligation from society.
The continual humiliation of living in a society which views them as parasites leaves women vulnerable to even more capitalist scams to force more free labour from them[cite]. For women conditioned through generations and written history to believe they are parasites and expect slavery, it is harder to recognize and fight off these predators. Most women with dependents pride themselves in their ability to survive in the system while obeying all the ridiculous rules, and condemn other women who refuse. They have accepted the trade economy’s zero valuation of their labour.
No human achievement would have been possible without the lifegivers and caregivers that raised and enabled those achieving. Mothers receive instant blame for failures of their adult offspring, as seen in the media coverage of tragedies like the Sandy Hook massacre[cite] or the Boston bombing[cite], both in the United States. Even a case that could seemingly not possibly be blamed on a woman, such as the Sandy Hook massacre, apparently can. The U.S. media and president aligned to exclude the killer’s mother from the recognized victims[cite] and media instantly began to question her parenting as a cause of his actions[cite]. Victim blaming is a phenomenon that occurs in all violence directed at a lower class, but only in violence against women can the victim be held to blame for the character of the killers. As soon as a woman is found to blame, this search for root causes stops; the discussion is never continued to find a man causing the supposed misbehaviour of the woman and hold him accountable for her actions. Teachers are also punished for student failure and disrespected like mothers are, more where students are younger and there are more female teachers. Lifegiving and caregiving both carry only the risk of loss of societal approval and no possibility to gain approval, at least for women.
This blame is not a recognition of the greater influence of mothers in caregiving as any credit is far more likely to be assigned to fathers. Gillian Triggs, the Australian justice given the position of president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, was depicted in Australian media as the daughter of a tank commander[cite] as though her father’s experience driving a tank was somehow more relevant to her legal post than her own five decades of legal achievement. Even a completely absent father like former U.S. president Barack Obama’s gets an autobiography entitled Dreams From My Father in which the mother who raised Obama is reduced to “a white woman from Kansas”.[cite]
Women as mothers are also derided as coercion to stop reproduction. The act of giving birth instantly triggers a demotion in status to a level of no sexual attractiveness, intelligence or interest to society except as a consumer of household products. Mothers, like prostitutes before them, are expected to not participate in society. Mothers have their children threatened if they disobey power as Pussy Riot members and many others have discovered[cite]. “You have a four-year-old daughter, and you must have known going into your performance in the church that arrest was a real possibility. Wasn’t that irresponsible toward your child?” Der Speigel scolded[cite] Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, in glaring contrast to their fawning coverage of Julian Assange, also a parent of young children. In today’s society, any reminder of female physical attributes comes with a perception of lesser intelligence. Women are described as a mom as a demeaning dismissive. In the technology fields currently hailed as our future in every aspect of society, mom is a euphemism for imbecile and some self-proclaimed feminists still sneer at other women as breeders. Respect and perception of intelligence decreases for women with the number of children born, while for men more children still adds to the perception of leadership.[cite]
Western media have gone from a frenzy of approbation for the Dionne quintuplets in the 1930’s to death threats for a U.S. mother of octoplets. In 1934, a poor farmer with five children gave birth to quintuplets and then three more children, for a total of thirteen. People all over the world sent assistance to them, to the point that Canada passed the Dionne Quintuplets’ Guardianship Act in 1935 making them state wards and a significant tourist attraction and government income source[cite]. In the United States in 2009, a single mother of six gave birth to octoplets. She received death threats, protests outside her home, and a baby seat thrown through the back window of her minivan[cite]. In an interestingly medieval turn, she also appeared in a strip show labeled “The Final Humiliation” to pay the bills for her children[cite].
Mothers are subjected both to suspicion that they are in some way dependent on society and suspicion that they are in some way not doing all the caregiving work expected of them. Even the Sandy Hook killer’s murdered single mom was subject to instant speculation over whether she earned her own money and how while also being vilified for her adult son’s actions[cite]. People seem terrified that any money or support for lifegiving or caregiving would encourage people to give birth for the wrong reasons. Oddly, this reasoning is not applied to journalism, politics, medicine, killing people or even dissociated caregiving by teachers, social workers or foster parents.
The old patriarchal idea that women were property has combined with the new idea that lifegiving and caregiving are anti-social acts. Industrialized states support rights applied by gender instead of role. Societies that profess to protect women’s rights still treat lifegivers as slaves to society and regulate their behaviour as such. The aggressive master morality considered appropriate for workers in the trade economy is replaced by slave morality demanded of anyone working as lifegivers, caregivers or in service to society. Humility, no expectation of reward, and unrequited respect and devotion to those they serve are demanded with the roles.
Society has never been shy about dictating what type of person should become a mother or the behaviour expected once someone becomes a mother, but these pressures are not shared by the rest of society. While the mother is expected to be an impossible paragon, modern society feels no obligation to provide a safe and welcoming, educational and nurturing environment. A mother that does not love her child is considered an abomination. A society that does not love its children is considered natural and justified. An entirely child free environment is not just possible, it is considered normative and a right, encouraged by segregated public spaces and endless articles asking if children ought to be allowed in social gathering and other public places. A popular theme in parenting blogs for the past several years suggests that caregivers should provide the surrounding society with goodie bags as a preemptive apology for intruding into society. Public spaces regularly ban infants and children. No one can demand a life free of those employed by military or refuse admittance to the elderly. Children and their caregivers are the lowest social class above criminals and they have been outcast, not just from the trade economy but also from the rest of society.
If a caregiver in industrialized states fails to care for a child, if they are addicted, abusive, unwilling or unable, the child is not entitled to just go to a neighbour or family member and expect care. There are dissociated government institutions that will punish caregivers for neglect or abuse and provide food and lodging for children, but there is no society that the child has a right to expect love and caregiving from. If a society refuses to nurture or even accept its young, it is no surprise if the youth grow up to disrespect and even attack the society. From earliest childhood, they are made aware that their ingroup consists of only their family or even only themselves. The group narcissism usually associated with nationalism becomes individual narcissism in a dissociated community.
Caregivers must now attempt to raise contributing members of society while competing with far stronger coercion from media, video games, addiction, mental health issues and a surrounding sociopathic community. Middle aged single mothers or elderly grandmothers are not strong enough to stand up to fully grown adolescents, but they are held solely responsible for the behaviour of their teenage sons and daughters. Not only do they receive no societal support, they are degraded in the eyes of the child. Because lifegiving and caregiving work has no value attached, the old inherent debt of honour to lifegivers, caregivers and community elders has been erased. Children are given allowances instead of chores. Mothers are judged by their capacity to give, love and respect but children and the surrounding community are not. Society has ensured that the job of caregiving is impossible. Caregivers are in service to those they are compelled by society, biology and humanity to love and care for, so going on strike is not an option. When life gets better for others, caregivers are the first to be put off with promises of trickle down human rights. When help is offered, it always serves to diminish the societal support role in caregiving and increase the corporate and state roles.
The world is critically overpopulated and populations are still increasing. The answer to that is to increase education and availability of safe[cite] birth control methods and alternative lifestyles for women, as well as incorporating children more into the societies they are part of. The answer is not to vilify lifegiving and caregiving and those who assume those roles. When children are taught to disrespect their own caregivers for their gifts and for their acceptance of a slave role, they are taught to despise caregiving itself and anyone who acts outside of the trade economy. The approval economy and dependencies that built our societies from our earliest history are being shown as the most contemptible and difficult path from earliest childhood. Caregivers and children are the last unit of social structure to be dismantled and the most physically and socially difficult to separate. The war against this relationship and its isolation from the rest of society is a war against society.
In the capitalist society we live in, corporations are people and people are means of production. The rapidly escalating international industry of human trafficking is a picture of a society which has reduced people to dissociated bodies. Men object to a society which gives them responsibility for childbirth without authority or choice and women object to a society which gives them responsibility without choice, support or acknowledgment. Men and women, old and young, able and infirm have been forcibly ripped apart in an attempt to destroy and commodify society and halt the creation of a horizontal network of inter-dependencies. Caregivers are overwhelmed and unrecognized. Grandparents are receiving back the unemployed, the addicted, the wounded and the sick so that society does not have to deal with revolution. Caregivers are absorbing all of the anger caused by the trade economy injustices from their position at the second to bottom tier of society.
State education takes responsibility for indoctrination of selected history and worldview and preparation for the work force, frequently a compulsory education that parents will go to jail for resisting. Propaganda dictates that the same parents who were capable of teaching nutrition, health, hygiene, speech, safety and so much more to their children are incapable of teaching reading. Capitalism insists every child has a right to daily indoctrination paid for by the state but not a right to food and shelter. To appoint only mothers and caregivers as fully responsible for producing and caring for the entire society and not recognize or support that work is institutionalized slavery. State propaganda is not a social right. Food, safety, shelter and all the benefits of the society are. If the child is to love their society, they must be welcomed by it. If a society is to benefit from caregivers, their labour must be recognized and included in the economic structure.
The root of society, the first dependence, is created when a woman gives birth to a child. The nature of society depends on how it is built out from that core, whether all share in responsibility for the first and all other dependencies or whether the strongest are pulled away to isolate caregivers and commodify dependency.
The root of society is a woman giving birth to a child. No one looking at that root could fail to see the ability of one life to affect another or the changes wrought in one individual by interaction with another. A mother’s autonomy, free will and physiology are thoroughly disrupted by the experience. Hormonal changes in the mother can create an overwhelming urge to nurture and protect a strange and separate human or an overwhelming urge to kill the helpless infant. With lactation, mood altering hormones can stay with the mother for years and the act of giving birth leaves lifelong effects. There is evidence that cells from the fetus cross over and remain in the mother’s body, possibly influencing her physiology for years and transferring cells to younger siblings.[cite] There are also indications that the fetus may receive DNA from not just their father but also previous men their mother received sperm from[cite]. The physical reality of an autonomous individual created by parasiting off another person and receiving input from many more, not just before birth but for years after, is a microcosm of society. Life is not an individual achievement but a continuum passed from one generation to the next through a vast number of life forms. Society is a network of dependencies.
Once communities are destroyed, families are the only society preventing children from growing up completely dissociated or as sociopaths. In stratified societies, particularly those heavily dependent on trade economy, women had their roles more restricted and were treated less as community members and more as possessions. Trade inherently favours those not performing the lifegiving and caregiving roles in society so power concentrated in men everywhere trade flourished. As women and their labour became more and more a possession that men could buy, women’s lives were more restricted and they were more guarded as the possessions of one man. With that isolation came a loss of community in almost every case unless a man could afford more than one wife. The treatment of women varied greatly under the trade economy, but because Europe spread the third age of supranational empires around the world, the pattern for industrial destruction of families still followed everywhere today follows the one set in Europe.
Where all had previously worked together in a society, waged labour created class warfare and a new master-servant relationship between men and women. Men had autonomy through land replaced by autonomy through wages and women were now unpaid slaves. With the destruction of peasant society, women lost their communal support network. A woman had to either manage a job in the trade economy while also being solely responsible for societal support or accept work as a slave to her own husband and family, with even her wages from the trade economy often being paid to her husband. Frequently, there was no choice of independence from marriage for women. Men were reduced to working all day away from their family to purchase their admittance into it. Family relationships which had, once established, been purely social were now monetized and deeply humiliating and divisive to all.
The division of men and women was the most important class division, the one which enabled the commodification of all the most basic dependencies and destroyed the possibility of horizontal society.
European history is usually written as a history of the inexorable progress of the trade economy, depicted as civilization. The peasant rebellions and resistance between the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the resurgence of trade following the raids on Constantinople is largely depicted as a blank spot called Europe’s Dark Ages. Endless battles and insurrections and powerful networks of horizontal collaboration are buried in a history which reads as Thomas Carlyle’s “Biography of Great Men”.[cite]
The communalist movement that existed in the eleventh and twelfth centuries … was the complete negation of the unitarian, centralizing Roman outlook with which history is explained in our university curricula. Nor is it linked to any historic personality, or to any central institution. – Kropotkiniv[cite]
The decline of the Western Roman Empire brought increasing resistance from peasants to those who sought to enclose and control their land use and acquire their labour. Slavery had evolved into serfdom in most places in Europe and many people had far greater autonomy, their own land plus the commons, solidarity and community. The Magna Carta[cite] was first signed in 1215 and the Charter of the Forest[cite] in 1217. Centralized power under the Catholic church was being challenged by Martin Luther and the Protestants preaching spiritual freedom. The peasants had diversity and society and were fighting to maintain autonomy. Silvia Federici calls the heretic movements of the 11-13th centuries the first “proletarian international” and she describes the heretics “liberation theology” which “denounced social hierarchies, private property and the accumulation of wealth” and disseminated “a new revolutionary conception of society that … redefined every aspect of daily life (work, property, sexual reproduction and the position of women) posing the question of emancipation in truly universal terms.”[cite] The Cathars saw the spirit as being sexless and gendered roles as illogical.viii
The Beguines of the 12th century also created a society of horizontal collaboration among womenix, devoted to prayer and good works but free of subjection by the church or any other hierarchy, as did the smaller male Beghard communities. The Mirror of Simple Souls[cite], by Beguine Marguerite Porete in the early 14th-century, was written in French and intended to make religious teachings accessible, unlike the church’s Latin. During a time when the Catholic church acted as the sole NGO, collecting money for the poor and keeping it for themselves, these women were threatening the church coffers. Women were also, according to Federici, a major force behind the later peasant revolts during food shortages and other troubles as they seldom had the option of leaving and were responsible for the caretaking of children and others. Women who were part of the families and communities they were healers in were also less likely to act in the interests of the powerful over the health of their families. Isabel Pérez Molina writes[cite] “… witches-healers … advised people to control their consumption of sugar, since they had detected illnesses related to such consumption. However, for the Church, which had interests in the sugar industry, it was in its interest for consumption to increase, not the other way round.”
In the mid 13th century, the old silk road reopened under the Pax Mongolica. European traders demanded increased production and more control over both the workers and the production of workers, but at the same time, the Black Death killed a third of Europe’s population. There were two outcomes of the increased desire for labour. First, women were blamed for their failure to produce a work force. Second, Europe became a major player in the slave trade. In response to the first, the church and capitalists sought to establish corporate control over childbirth and respond to the rising egalitarian threat by dividing the previously united peasants.
The power of life and death was largely the domain of women in medieval Europe as they were the keepers of medicinal knowledge and the medical practitioners. They were also the midwives and the people who performed abortions and taught contraception so they controlled the production of the labour force. With industry demanding more workers, women’s bodies, no less than foreign continents, became the site of a capitalist war for resources. By 1484, when Pope Innocent VIII issued a papal bull approving the Inquisition, women were clearly defined as capitalism’s first terrorist threat, accused of having “slain infants yet in the mother’s womb … hinder men from performing the sexual act and women from conceiving”.[cite] A heretic who recanted was made to embroider a bundle of sticks (a faggot) to their sleeve in reminder of the fire they had escaped and may yet suffer. The term once used against argumentative women is now used as a pejorative against homosexuals, the other targeted practitioners of non-reproductive sex. The women healers had used sedatives and other drugs to assist in childbirth, but the church also decided that was against God’s will that women give birth in pain and die frequently in childbirth.[cite] As of 2012, almost 800 women die in pregnancy or childbirth every day.[cite] The Catholic church today still spends far more time objecting to abortion than to murder.
Between the twelfth and the seventeenth centuries, the witch hunt which raged over Europe and the Americas killed untold numbers of women and indigenous healers who practiced medicine or had medical knowledge at the same time that the institution of all male professional medicine was being established. The medical knowledge taught in the universities established in the twelfth century was primarily a study of the works of Galen and Hippocratesxv and included little to no practical experience. The professional practice consisted of little more than blood letting and incantations by the church with confession required before treatment. The universities commodified care for society members into a product to make the Catholic church more wealthy, much as the medical industry has continued to put corporate wealth over medical care today. The execution of all female and indigenous practitioners and forbidding of all old knowledge was to establish a monopoly over the most important societal knowledge, the power over life and death. What is billed as The Birth of Modern Medicine was really the death of all women’s knowledge and most importantly, the death of women’s control over their own reproductive destinies.
As medical education in Europe became regulated and restricted to men, the women previously known as wise women who traveled and taught others were condemned as gossips. The word gossip, which once meant friend, was turned into a vice and churches warned of women’s idle tongues. In the words of the Malleus Malleficarum , “they have slippery tongues, and are unable to conceal from the fellow-women those things which by evil arts they know”.[cite] Entire networks of learning were dismantled as these women were named witches and tortured to reveal their networks of trade and knowledge sharing in an apparent attempt to genetically cull daring or intelligent women. Daughters were made to watch their mothers burn and sometimes received lashes in front of their mother’s fires in warning.[cite] The women’s networks had also been used to spread information between villages. In centralizing control over medicine and education and isolating women, the church also controlled horizontal communication. Traveling healers were replaced by traveling priests and professional doctors. Peasant rebellions would find neither a sympathetic conduit for information.
In an interesting parallel to today’s terrorism laws, witchcraft was also deemed a crimen exceptum[cite] with far less rights for prisoners, interrogation under torture, death sentences for suspicion of offence and inquisitions which sought new names to prosecute. Then as now, the new medical professionals played a significant part as ‘expert witnesses’ for the prosecution. The demonization of women was also greatly helped by the teachings of their professional rivals who brought back such Hippocratic favourites as female hysteria (still a very popular diagnosis for any woman who speaks in public) and the wandering womb, described by Aretaeus: “In the middle of the flanks of women lies the womb, a female viscus, closely resembling an animal; for it is moved of itself hither and thither in the flanks, also upwards in a direct line to below the cartilage of the thorax, and also obliquely to the right or to the left, either to the liver or the spleen, and it likewise is subject to prolapsus downwards, and in a word, it is altogether erratic. It delights also in fragrant smells, and advances towards them; and it has an aversion to fetid smells, and flees from them; and, on the whole, the womb is like an animal within an animal.”[cite] It is hard not to be reminded of politicians in the United States today who claim that women’s bodies are full of hundreds of tiny dead babies.[cite]
Current history describes the Inquisition as primarily religious persecution despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of victims were women of all faiths. The popularly known victims who were persecuted for their beliefs, the ones taught in schools today, are scientists such as Galileo and Copernicus who both lived to very old age and continued to work. The hundreds of thousands or millions of women and indigenous and enslaved South Americans killed are unmentioned. All of the texts at the time of the Inquisition made clear, the primary target was women (and in South America, indigenous and slave cultures) and their professional knowledge. The Inquisition was not, as it is depicted today, an attack against men of science, it was an attack for and by men of science.
It is still not acceptable to today’s corporations to mention the gynocide that put them in control or the dissociated structure that exists more than ever today as medical knowledge is not just centrally controlled but also copyrighted and patented. A search for the history of western medicine will jump straight from Hippocrates to the twelfth century with all of the intervening knowledge photoshopped out, dismissed as old wives’ tales with no recognition of the fact that it provided health care for all of Europe for centuries.
At the same time that women saw their own bodies turned into workhouses to enslave them and lost autonomy over their own bodies, the trade economy made all work not traded to the powerful for a wage unrecognized. The World Bank today still speaks of women entering the workforce and contributing labour when they enter the trade economy. Worker’s movements centre around waged workers and men’s rights activists insist more men die on the job because the occupational hazards of childbirth and marriage aren’t considered jobs. Laws protecting against forced labour and slavery do not include motherhood. According to the World Health Organization, 287 000 women die in childbirth every year.[cite] All United States combat casualties in all wars ever come to 848,163.[cite]
The erasure of value from women’s work was necessary for the enslavement of women. The enslavement of women was necessary for outside ownership of their bodies, the factories producing the labour force.
“WHENEVER those states which have been acquired as stated have been accustomed to live under their own laws and in freedom, there are three courses for those who wish to hold them: the first is to ruin them, the next is to reside there in person, the third is to permit them to live under their own laws, drawing a tribute, and establishing within it an oligarchy which will keep it friendly to you;
but when cities or countries are accustomed to live under a prince, and his family is exterminated, they, being on the one hand accustomed to obey and on the other hand not having the old prince, cannot agree in making one from amongst themselves, and they do not know how to govern themselves. For this reason they are very slow to take up arms, and a prince can gain them to himself and secure them much more easily.” – The Prince, Niccolò Machiavelli (1532)
The new global empire is possible because recent history and overwhelming media coercion have rendered the majority of the world incapable of self-governance. The populations described in the first paragraph have almost all transitioned through the three recommended coercive structures and they are now the second type which Machiavelli identified as easily controlled from a remote centre. Outside of a very few, very isolated nations, there is no longer anything close to freedom or self-governance anywhere on earth and memories and belief in its possibility have all but been erased.
In the power, wealth and celebrity ponzi schemes that dictate our relations today, conflict is always between the top and the bottom. The only points of conflict between power centres occur when one is absorbing another and these events are not particularly important. The majority of those at the top usually remain there and those at the bottom almost always do. Nationalist rhetoric notwithstanding, it matters not at all whether the headquarters is in Beijing, London, Rome or Cusco if there is no self-governance. The ponzi scheme of power which once upheld the Great Men of Machiavellian city states is now scaled to uphold the first truly global empire, but the principles and players remain the same. The Great Men of oligarchies have always been upheld by a cohesive block of commoners with common goals and fears which can be easily manipulated by those in power.
The crack in the monopoly on education and media has created a surge of independent thought which may finally dissolve the club of cohesive democratic power which has kept Great Men in power for centuries. With no middle class there will be no oligarchy. – Me, Commoners and how they are coerced
In the west, laws supporting freedom of thought, expression and debate once contrasted with the communist constitutions which put ideology ahead of individual thought. Western media and Hollywood were all powerful, allowing the five eyes to use censorship by noise instead of Chinese style censorship by blocking. Freedom of the western corporate press also aided the empire in controlling the governance of foreign states by seductive coercion. Insisting on ‘press freedom’ throughout their empire ensured their influence was impossible to counter. China’s recent investment in media in Africa acknowledges that this is still the case in parts of the world.
Social media has in a few years drastically changed the amount of ideas and the sources which people can be exposed to. All of the anti-US governments in South America were early and heavy users of social media and the US is just catching up with getting their propaganda on social media as dominant as it was in the South American corporate press. Governments around the world are finding that neither their propaganda effortsnor censorship are enough to counter real grass roots movements or to stop ideas which may spread virally on their own. In addition to legislation countering free speech when it appears on social media under the guise of countering ‘trolling’, new forms of blocking which go beyond technology and reach the individual sources of thought are being implemented.
The concept of ‘terrorism’ has been used to justify thought reform globally. While ‘terrorism’ still nebulously relates to an act, the designation of ‘terrorist’ does not and rights can be stripped with no trial or notice based on such a designation. The designation of terrorist can be based simply on group affiliation and terrorism acts now include expression of forbidden thought.
In Canada, terrorism is defined asan act or omission committed “in whole or in part for a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause” with the intention of intimidating the public “…with regard to its security, including its economic security, or compelling a person, a government or a domestic or an international organization to do or to refrain from doing any act.”
In the UK, terrorism refers to the use and threat of action “designed to influence the government or to intimidate the public or a section of the public” and “made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause.”
In Australiaterrorism is “an act or threat, intended to advance a political, ideological or religious cause by coercing or intimidating an Australian or foreign government or the public.”
Unlike the definitions in the US and EU, which include such qualifiers as ‘seriously intimidating’, ‘unduly compelling’ or ‘violation of the criminal laws’, both Canada and the UK have designated any attempt to influence the government, the public, or any section of the public for a political, religious or ideological purpose as terrorism. While you may not go to prison for attempting to persuade your neighbour to boycott Israeli products you can certainly be designated a terrorist, put on a watch list, lose yourcitizenshiprights and possibly be arrested in any state which shares (or steals) intelligence from these governments. Neither do you have to be expressing ideas deemed dangerous to the corporate states, simply listening to them is enough. Criminalizing ideas allows states to declare war against segments of their own population and strip them of citizenship and rights of due process.
Since there is no terrorist act not also committed regularly by the governments of the world, the only thing separating the terrorists from the corporate states is the phrase “for a political, religious or ideological purpose”. State actors commit all the same acts in pursuit of power, celebrity and wealth. Actions taken for personal gain or as a result of following orders are not criminalized, the same acts motivated by social participation and expression of independent thought are.
Laws once focused on actions and a wealthy adult who stole a loaf of bread was to be judged in the exact same manner as a starving child. Recently, the focus has turned to judging the individual and their motivations for an act, allowing extenuating circumstances such as youth, insanity and other personal factors to influence judgements. Now we have progressed to judging motivations without any associated actions. We have attained a state where thoughts alone can be criminal.
Laws have been passed calling all citizens defending themselves or their environment terrorists. The Canadian Minister of Public Safety targets“domestic extremism based on grievances – real or perceived – revolving around the promotion of various causes such as animal rights … environmentalism and anti-capitalism.” Self defence is terrorism. Citizen armies have been replaced by corporate security worldwide and international trade agreements ensure there is no longer any regional authority over regional resources. Refugees whose homes have been destroyed are jailed for migration from places where they are dying. The mass refugee movement caused by corporate plunder is advertised as ‘asylum seeking’ or ‘illegal immigration’. The people corporate terrorism is driving to desperation are those who will help militias designated as terrorists expand, fed by the drugs, weapons and human traffickers.
Terrorists against corporations act for a political, religious or ideological cause. Terrorists against the people act for power, celebrity and wealth. Self-governance includes stewardship and use of the environment and its products by the user group. Any control or ownership outside the user group is enemy occupation, not self-governance.
The motivations designated by corporate states as terrorist are all those leading to resistance from corporate plunder. Wherever we see the corporate hold on seductive coercion weakening and being diluted by other players we also see them increasingly reverting to old methods of hard coercion. The designation of terrorism has been used to allow methods so extreme they were very recently only found in the deep shadows, now openly brought forward to combat those whose thoughts have slipped out from under corporate control. Not only the torture and abuse of individuals but the mass extermination of entire populations through disease, starvation, environmental destruction and war have renewed acceptance among the most powerful.
From the passive aggression of ignoring perfectly foreseeable crises like the Ebola epidemic and starvation in the Sahel to militia wars where corporate powers supply all sides, environmental destruction which crushes all resistance and ongoing genocides such as Myanmar’s persecution of the Rohingya and Kachin or corporate attacks on the indigenous of Brazil all illustrate what is waiting when seductive coercion fails.
Things are never so bad they can’t get worse.
“Men ought either to be well treated or crushed, because they can avenge themselves of lighter injuries, of more serious ones they cannot; therefore the injury that is to be done to a man ought to be of such a kind that one does not stand in fear of revenge.” – The Prince, Niccolò Machiavelli (1532)
A war on self-governance
This is a war where the populace is kept sickly, ignorant, desperate and above all fearful to keep them from rising up against the military industrial complex. The tools used are drugs (legal and illegal), poor nutrition, environmental hazards, misinformation, blocked access to good information, poverty, stress, crime and, above all, war. The weapons against them will be information, solidarity, good health, great optimism, and mass participation in every aspect of government. – Me, A Stateless War, 2010
Self-governance requires debate and free expression for epistemic communities and others without the risk of being labeled a terrorist and having a bomb dropped on your head. For the first time, we have the communication infrastructure to enable societal auto-coercion and self-governance which can scale globally. The battle for hearts and minds is the only battle that matters and the only war that matters is the one between the oligarchs globally and the people oppressed by them. The most important weapon is global communication and the most important freedom is freedom of thought.
Self-governance is not only possible, it is in all of our societal history. While new structures and methods must certainly be developed to allow society to scale globally when necessary, the basic structure and memory is still there in our history and will still work. The thought reform efforts of the last many years were attempts to erase that memory, to reduce even the basic societal unit of families to trade relationships, to make a trade economy and rule by mafia seem not only logical but inevitable. While corporate control has fought to narrow and hold the public’s Overton window, others of us have fought to move and widen it. The new definitions of terrorism as attempts to influence the government or the public is a war against freedom of thought and auto-coercion by a population, a war against self-governance.
The solid block of common thought necessary to uphold Great Men in seats of power has a natural tendency to disperse and regroup like a true swarm. Coercive power has become more desperate to force this block back into formation as the swarm becomes louder and the points of influence multiply daily. The intelligence agencies of the world are not working for your governance, they are your governance. Corporate power has expended huge energy on identifying those butterflies that may become hurricanes and discrediting and silencing them before they can build. In the end, they will fail and a new structure will emerge. Whether this new structure is built in favour of corporations or people depends on who wins the war of coercion and thought reform.