By Joseph MirandaConsider for a moment what a German radical said about the revolutionary nature of modern capitalism back in the early 19th century:
“The [capitalist class] cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. . . Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish [this] epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their taint of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into the air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life and his relations with his kind.”
Consider how true those words would be today if we substitute “cybernetics” for “capitalist.” Cybernetics has already revolutionized the world. Information, and not production, is what is becoming the critical factor in the post-industrial economy. Any political movement that gains control of the means of information (and not the means of production) will lead the next revolution. The new revolutionary class is composed of the scientists, operators, and utilizers of cybernetic technology.
In the past, communications were part of the hierarchical, mass based systems that had arisen parallel to industrial society (which was a hierarchical, mass mobilized system) and modern armies (which were also hierarchically organized and based on mass mobilization). Cybernetics has reversed this trend. Cybernetic communications nets, based today on the Internet and World Wide Web, arise not because of top down orders or market surveys, but due to the spontaneous actions of individuals. The implications are staggering. Political-economic-social organization no longer takes place in physical space (e. g., a meeting hall or factory or church) but in cyberspace — the common ground of cybernetic/computer operators. And with this, cyberspace has become the battleground of revolution.
The cyberspace front
Possession of a computer, a modem, and a place to link it gives the individual the following capabilities:
- a secure means of communications (through encryption);
- the ability to maintain contact with literally millions of other individuals;
- a means to generate propaganda (through communications and printouts);
- the ability to penetrate into the enemy’s computer systems and neutralize them.
In effect, the individual can become a one-person revolutionary cadre. Multiply this process by millions of similar cybernetic operators, and it becomes apparent that repressive measures based on traditional means are inevitably doomed to failure.No longer will governments or major media corporations be able to dominate the flow of information. Control of information is one of the prerequisites for repression in the modern world, a point which is recognized by every repressive state’s utilization of censorship and propaganda apparatuses.
This has implications in other fields as well. For example, encryption and the developing technology of digital cash allow people to circumvent government restrictions on currency transfers. The standard government custom of seizing people’s monetary assets becomes virtually impossible as, with the execution of a single preprogrammed command, one can transfer one’s accounts to any number of secure locations globally. The balance of power has shifted to the individual.
Of course, those who benefit from the current power structure will resist cybernetic innovations. These interest groups claim that cybernetics are a “threat” to society. They are right, but not in the way they claim in the media. The threat is not to individual citizens practicing their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The threat is to a society in which entrenched interests can dominate an otherwise free people.
Given the widescale presence of cybernetic communications equipment in the United States, any attempt of the government to suppress or even regulate cybernetic communications is inevitably doomed to failure. Since there is no centralized system of control or switching (as is true of telephone and network radio and television) it becomes impossible to strike against any insurgent cybernetic infrastructure.
By its very nature, cybernetics are chaotic. The more repressive the government becomes, the more people will resist; the more rigid security procedures are, the greater the opportunity to circumvent them. This cycle was demonstrated by the collapse of the late Soviet Union. The Soviet government attempted to suppress the new communications technology by rigidly controlling computers, faxes, and photocopying machines. But no state in the modern world can destroy its own communications infrastructure and hope to survive. The end result was a revolution which brought down the once mighty Soviet empire.
This process is also apparent in the United States. Through its prosecution of Phil Zimmermann (inventor of PGP, encryption for the masses), the clipper chip controversy, and the Communications Decency Act (censoring cyberspace), the United States government has alienated the very people on whom the future of its technological progress depends. By alienating millions of cybernetically oriented citizens, the United States government has created the groundwork for the very revolutionary situation it hoped to avoid. This is already manifested in the widescale mobilization of the cybernetic community against further government intervention in cyberspace. The government has already been defeated in several key battles. The illegal Secret Service raid on Steve Jackson Games led to the government’s comeuppance in court and the rise of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. More recently, the forces of freedom mobilized via the Internet to stop the clipper chip dead in its tracks.
It is fairly obvious that whatever the wishes of the government, it is impossible for a state to stop the march of scientific/technological progress. A nation that did so would be destroyed, for it would be unable to compete economically or militarily in the modern world.
What is to be done?
Any movement which desires to lead in American politics must mobilize the rising wave of cybernetics. This would mean:
- Learning how to use cybernetic technology.
- Abandoning policies which are past oriented; concentrate on the future instead.
- Actively recruiting cybernetically oriented people.
- Establishing advocacy and legal defense organizations to combat repressive government policies.
- Actually utilizing this technology for political protest and gaining the support of the majority of citizens.
The point is, it doesn’t really matter what the forces of repression do; historically, they are doomed by the revolution in technology. The real question is how effectively can the forces of freedom grasp cybernetic technology.Joseph Miranda is editor of California Liberty, where this article also appears.