part 2 of article
CYBERNAUTS part 1
by Joseph Miranda
CYBERNAUTS: REVOLUTION ON THE CYBERNETIC FRONT by Joseph Miranda
The modern era has seen radical changes in the nature of society, much of it generated by changes in technology, and by the wide array of social structures that technology holds sway over. As one German radical wrote about the rise of the industrial/scientific revolutions 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."
The industrial revolution destroyed the foundations of the traditional rural-aristocratic system. In its place rose the modern nation-state with its mass ideologies of democracy, militarism, imperialism and consumerism. This revolutionary technological process is taking another quantum forward today through the medium of cybernetics. What will the future hold as the cybernetic revolution spreads over the globe?
One of the implications of cybernetics is a new twist in the communications revolution which began in the 19th century. The development of the telegraph, then the telephone, radio, and later television vastly increased the power of people to communicate. Governments attempted to gain control of these technologies. Communications are a primary means of propaganda. People can be stirred to support wars through exploitation of radio broadcasting and motion pictures. More importantly, control of the media is a prerequisite to control of society. This control was fairly blatant in the totalitarian Nazi and Communist states. It was more subtle in Western capitalist societies, where the media came under the control of a limited number of corporations. Cybernetics provides not just another form of media, but a change in the very roots of society.
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, based today on the Internet and World Wide Web, arise not because of top down bureaucratic orders or market surveys, but due to the spontaneous actions of individuals. Cybernetic communications give the individual the capacity for immediate feedback. Political decisions, for example, can be criticized and reshaped to suit current needs via input from popular mobilization. Similarly, the mass media, which is dependent upon the decisions of a few corporate leaders, can be superseded by cybernetic systems in which individuals choose their entertainment, news, and information programming.
The political benefits of cybernetics are direct. No longer are mass movements restricted to the hierarchical system of organization which has been the hallmark of modern revolutionary doctrine. The traditional revolutionary system was based on avant garde cadres mobilizing front organizations which in turn mobilized the masses. This was a long term process, taking years or even decades to build an organization strong enough to challenge the state. Now, there is a continually shifting pattern of individuals who, acting in in concert with others, are able to produce results immediately.
What has happened is that organization no longer takes place in physical space (e. g., a meeting hall) but in cyberspace, the common ground of cybernetic/computer operators. Possession of a computer, a modem and a place to link it gives the individual the following capabilities:
€ A secure means of communications (via encryption);
€ The ability to maintain contact with literally millions of other individuals;
€ A means to generate propaganda (through web sites, e-mail and printouts);
€ The ability to penetrate into the enemy's computer systems and neutralize them.
The implications are staggering. In effect, the individual can become a one-person revolutionary cadre. Multiply this process by millions of similar cybernetically linked individuals, and it becomes apparent that any repressive measures based on traditional means of state control are inevitably doomed to failure.
The primary revolutionary class is shifting away from the workers and towards the cybernetic operators. This reflects the change in the nature of modern economies away from industrialization and towards information/service societies. The ruling class has learned how to disregard the working class via such techniques as downsizing, outsourcing, and shifting jobs and factories abroad. However, they can not do without the cybernetic operators. But the interests of the cybernetic operators are not necessarily those of the ruling class, as will be seen in the case of PGP. There is a growing restlessness among cybernetic operators.The result is a growing recognition on the part of the rulers that cybernetics need to be brought under control.
A good example of the growing conflict is the struggle over Key Escrow Encryption (otherwise known as the "Clipper Chip"). Key Escrow Encryption was proposed by the United States National Security Agency as a means to standardize encryption in the United Sates -- with the proviso that the United States government would maintain copies of the encryption keys. Effectively, this was giving the U.S. government a key to all computer stored data in the country. A protest movement against the Clipper Chip quickly mobilized over the Internet, a movement which was successful enough to block passage of the Clipper Chip legislation. The significant factor is that this was a battle fought largely in cyberspace. Mobilization of protest was largely through the internet. The rapid response of the protesters was only possible because of the internet's capabilities.
A hallmark of cybernetic communications is the rapidity with which events can be generated. The immediacy of television news, in conjunction with cybernetically enhanced communications, has allowed great shifts in political fortunes. Since people can communicate routinely on an international level, the power of the nation state is being challenged. People can form alliances which are outside of the state's infrastructure. One implication is that people's loyalties will no longer be to their national governments but to whatever cybernetically organized community they happen to choose. And this goes beyond mere organization. Via "hacking," revolutionary cybernetic operator can penetrate, disrupt and destroy establishment computer systems.
The Pentagon is beginning to realize the implications of cybernetically based conflict. It is terming such conflict "information warfare." The ability to conduct communications and sabotage via the internet are too strong to be ignored by the state. Indeed, many revolutionary groups, such as Mexico's Zapatistas, have been using the internet to post propaganda and maintain contact with the outside world. The battle is shifting from the streets to cyberspace.
THE GLOBALIZED ECONOMY
The revolution in communications is paralleled by other decisions affecting national economies. One has been the globalization of the economy. Business transactions routinely take place across national borders. Again, this is enhanced by modern technology which allows instantaneous communications on a worldwide basis. National borders become irrelevant as it is now possible to circumvent them through the use of communications technology.
Major corporations have diversified to the point where they are truly international organizations in scope and operations. In the the past, one could talk of an "American" (or "British" or "German" or "Japanese", etc. ) economy. But today, all national economies are so interlocked that it becomes impossible to make these distinctions. The end result has been a shift to an entirely global mode of production. And with this shift has come major changes in society. Automobile parts, for example, may be manufactured in one country to be assembled in another, and sold worldwide.
In the past two decades, major American corporations have moved much of their industrial infrastructure out of the United States and into the "third world" (i. e., the underdeveloped countries). In these countries, labor costs are cheap, regulations few, and unions (if any) compliant. As a result, factory employment fell from a third of the U. S. work force in the 1950s to 20 percent in the 1990s. Much of the slack was taken up by the service economy, and by various information industries.
With the reallocation of American industry abroad, there has been a simultaneous decline in the importance of American labor unions. This, in turn, has led to a decline in the political power of the American middle class as opposed to corporate sponsored political action committees. One of the major losers in this process has been the American inner cities, which, deprived of their traditional industrial employment base, have progressively decayed in the late 20th century.
These trends are continued abroad. While unions were one of the major political forces from the 19th century onwards, it is becoming apparent that in the 21st century they will be rendered increasingly weaker, simply because any major corporation which is threatened by labor agitation can move elsewhere. The response of a government might be to nationalize the industries, but, given the nature of the world economy, this would prove to be suicidal. Corporations can simply shift their operations elsewhere, and place sufficient restrictions on the flow of capital to render a hostile state economically impotent.
The implications of this process can not be underestimated--the basis of much of the politics for the last two centuries has been the mobilization of labor (indeed, the working class was claimed as the base for the entire communist movement). What the new global economy has done is, effectively, render traditional communism obsolete largely by making the class struggle irrelevant. If the "First World" is transitioning to an information economy, then seizing the means of information, not production, will become the decisive revolutionary act. In the place of the working class will arise the new class of cybernetic operators. They will become the key group to lead revolutionary change.
As major corporations invest in third world countries, there is a growing displacement of their populaces. Millions of dispossessed citizens drift to the cities, whose social support services, overburdened by the influx, collapse. Or people migrate en masse to North America looking for employment. The continual guerrilla warfare throughout much of Latin America accelerates this process, creating millions more refugees. These mass migrations have been encouraged by the globalization of the media. For example, American television programs routinely promote a perception of the United States as a land of prosperity, gleaming cities, and sexually attractive people. Third world peoples are encouraged to move to America, with whatever social dislocations that in turn causes.
THE MILITARY DIMENSION
The globalization of the economy has implications for issues of military dominance. Until the 1960s, much of the world relied on American manufacturing to provide their consumer and industrial needs. But with the shift of production to the third world, and the rise of Industrial power in Japan, Korea, and elsewhere, the world is less dependent on American manufacturing. What this means is that American economic leverage will eventually decline.
Obviously, for a nation to fight a major war in the modern word requires a reliable industrial base. But just as importantly, modern warfare requires a technological base. Yet the American industrial base has been in part shifted elsewhere, and the technological base is being rendered obsolete by foreign based cybernetic advances. The American military relies heavily on high-technology components for its weapons. Many of these components are manufactured abroad. Will there be a reliable source for these components in the event future wars disrupt lines of communications across the oceans?
The modern warrior is becoming a union of man and machine. The United States has utilized cybernetics since the 1960s. Sensors, infrared scopes and television guided missiles were all employed in Vietnam. This trend is even more apparent today, with the utilization of battlefield computers and other advanced systems. The reliance on technology will lead to a change in the very nature of armies themselves. The era of citizen-armies based on mass conscription may be coming to an end. Cybernetic weaponry will be expensive and cybernetically equipped armies will require a higher degree of training. A hi-tech warrior class will be increasingly distanced from the citizenry. At the same time, revolutionary cadres equipped with cybernetic technologies can challenge dominant military and corporate systems. If information warfare is the wave of the future, then the revolutionary "cybercadres" or "information warriors" will possess the decisive weapons.
At the same time, the corporate power base is not all that secure. The new class of cybernetically oriented information specialists are becoming the critical sector of the economy. Their political mobilization will become the key to 21st century political power. And, as will be seen, the United States government has taken some less than intelligent steps in this matter.
The possibilities of computerized workplace mean that people can increasingly determine their own working conditions. This, of course, would be one of the greatest social revolutions in the history of the world. With this would also come political revolution, and of course, conflict as those who benefit from the older hierarchical systems resist.
CYBERNETIC SECURITY: REALITY OR ILLUSION?
Modern governments and industry realizes the importance of the control of the computers (and cybernetics in general) to their well being. They also recognize the threats to them [see sidebar on Tools of the Trade]. A number of techniques have been developed to provide security against attempts by "hackers" to penetrate computer systems. These techniques include:
€ Physical security. Controlling access to buildings and sensitive areas.
€ Personnel security. Giving computer operators extensive background checks and compartmentalizing high security jobs.
€ Hardware security. Preventing unauthorized persons from using terminals or pilfering equipment.
€ Software security. Ensuring that only authorized persons can use programs.
Security procedures have a long and generally successful career -- in the non-cybernetic world. The problem with these security methods is that they are suited to a world in which items are secured in a physica manner. But it has been found that attempting to "crack down" on cybernetic workers/operators is counterproductive. Rigid security procedures, background checks, and so forth, only leads to further alienation of the cybernetic work force who then strike back by sabotaging management computer files, releasing classified data, and illegally transferring funds.
Electronic data cannot be confined to a single secure site. Data must be allowed to flow around worldwide to be effective. By placing excessive controls on cybernetic operations, the employing agency de facto isolates itself, in effect severing its own nervous system. A hacker can penetrate a remote system purely via phone lines. The normal physical security procedures provide a false sense of security. Given the importance of the types of data that are stored electronically (everything from tax and criminal records to credit ratings and bank accounts) the potential for disaster--and revolutionary action--is incredible.
Consider what revolutionary hackers might accomplish by penetrating establishment computer systems...
€ Freedom for incarcerated political prisoners by changing their release dates.
€ Knowledge of classified information, such as codes.
€ Exposure of suppressed documents (such as the "Pentagon Papers) that will discredit the state.
€ Sabotage of secret police organizations by wiping out their files.
€ Destruction of oppressive organizations by wiping out or transferring their funds elsewhere.
€ Harassment of establishment figures by listing them as "subversive" in secret police files (thereby turning the system against itself).
€ Contact with individuals within the state-corporate apparatus for purposes of gaining their defection to the revolutionary cause.
It is no wonder that the United States government, and its allies in the corporate world, are taking frantic steps to keep this technology under control. Indeed, it has been the stated policy of the Clinton administration, fully supported by such intelligence agencies as the FBI and National Security Agency, that a free and independent cyberspace is a "threat" to American national security. Officially, the "threat" is supposed to be coming from domestic and international criminals, terrorists, drug dealers and gun runners (i.e., groups opposed to American and/or corporate dominance of the world) using cybernetics to communicate and encrypt data. Of course, the real threat is from anti-authoritarian movements who can utilize cybernetics for action which by its very nature is revolutionary.
The irony is that cybernetics and the internet, which are largely a creation of the government-corporate complex, have given anarchist/libertarian movements the very weapon with which they can smash that system. The chaotic nature of the internet allows and even requires non-hierarchical organization in which people come together voluntarily, accomplish a task, then split up and reform into new groupings. Control in this environment is virtually (literally and figuratively) impossible.
The cybernetic revolution is not something that will happen in the future, but is going on now, today. And it is a revolution that virtually anyone can participate in, assuming a minimal investment in time and equipment. The linking up of the world via the internet has given potential revolutionaries an opportunity such as never been available before in history, if they seize the moment. When else has it been so easy to reach the majority of people in the world, or to penetrate into the deepest recesses of the ruling class' sanctums?
The internet allows revolutionaries to organize on an international level. Again, this is in the very nature of the internet, as information flows freely across borders. Backing this up is the underground economy which, through encryption, can now secure its transactions free from the surveillance of the state. 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.
This challenge is recognized by the state-corporate sector, which also organizes on an international level (e.g., the globalization of capital; dominance of America consumer media culture over the Third World; multinational agreements on trade and investment; the internationalization of law enforcement; UN peacekeeping operations; etc.). And, again, this is why the state-corporate sector has taken such pains to suppress the internet--it can not deal with the competition.
By its very nature cyberspace will be chaotic and attempts to limit it are bound to either fail, or just as likely, to destroy the very effectiveness of the system itself. While this is not the place for a discussion of chaos theory, it is becoming rapidly apparent that this is an applicable way to to describe what is happening today. For the first time in millennium, hierarchical, repressive social structures are being challenged by alternative organizations which are inherently both non-hierarchical and effective. This is paralleled by the rise of "chaos" in military and political affairs since the end of the Cold War, reflected in the rise of national rivalries in place of rigid ideological conflicts, and the increasing effectiveness of guerrilla warfare.
The failure of United States led forces to suppress guerrillas in Somalia or Colombia in recent years is testament to this development (as was the failure of the Soviets to deal with the Afghan resistance in the 1980s). In these conflicts, locally organized resistance movement were able to defeat occupation forces not by destroying them in battle but by presenting them with situations they could not control. And this process is also apparent within the great super-states themselves. A case in point is the abrupt collapse of the Soviet Union. A superstate which had dominated Eurasia for most of the 20th century suddenly disintegrated, in part because of the ability of dissidents to exploit communications and the media to organize.
The former Soviet Union failed to maintain itself in the face of the rise of modern means of communications. The photocopy machine, the fax, and the telephone were ultimately all revolutionary weapons, since they allowed independent communications (and, one should note, all this occurred in a country where the state made a considerable attempt to control these devices!). Given the widescale presence of cybernetic communications equipment in the United States, any attempt of the government to suppress or even regulate alternative 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 "infrastructure." Revolution depends upon secure communications, and cybernetics provide that security.
Yet this lesson does not seem to be fully comprehended by America's elites. A trend is for government agencies to alienate large sectors of the cybernetic community by heavy handed security procedures. Government attempts to suppress cybernetic chaos, such as 1990's Operation Sun Devil, led to the creation of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has led the struggle for freedom in cyberspace. Just as importantly, the repression created an adversary relation in which many in the cybernetic community see the government as "the enemy." A case in point is the U. S. government's prosecution of Phil Zimmerman, inventor of PGP.
In the Spring of 1991, a bill was proposed in the United States (S. B. 266) which contained a proviso mandating that the providers and manufacturers of electronic communications services and equipment would have to ensure that communications systems permit the government to obtain the plain text contents of voice, data, and other communications. This caused a wave of shock across cybernetic communications channels. The new bill was seen as a threat to freedom of speech and privacy, as well a being a sure fire formula for destroying the growing American cryptographic industry. The concern was that no one would want to buy cryptographic programs which had a built in "back door" accessible to the state. This would have a special impact on Phil Zimmermann.
Phil Zimmermann was a computer consultant who had developed a personal computer version of public-key encryption. This software was virtually unbreakable. He called it PGP, for Pretty Good Privacy. In response to the announcement of S. B. 266, Kelly Goen, one of Zimmermann's associates, decided to take action. His plan was simple--give PGP to the world. He uploaded copies of PGP to various computer bulletin board around the United States. This, in effect, negated any possible future attempts for the government to insert a back door into PGP inasmuch as millions of people globally would have access to the original. Needless to say, this development did not make the United States government very happy.
The government ended up investigating Zimmermann for illegal trafficking in munitions since, technically, cryptography is considered a munition under United States codes. The case is complex, based on the assumption that, since PGP was uploaded onto bulletin boards which foreign nationals may access, Zimmermann was is in violation of United States munitions export laws! The government dropped the Zimmermann case in 1996, but it has served as a rallying point for many activists who are opposed to current United States cybernetics policies.
Similarly, the United States Congress has not stopped debating bills which would give the government increasing power to regulate -- and censor -- materials on the internet. Obviously, the government understands the power that an unfettered communications system would provide, especially when those communications can be used in conjunction with encryption. The major media corporations also understand this power. Indeed, one of the major corporate news magazines not too long ago initiated a campaign to discredit the internet by presenting it as a source of pornography for children. This sort of crude media smear has been used in the past to discredit challenges to establishment control by raising the specter of children endangered, to which threat only government repression is the answer. Witness how such a propaganda campaign has been employed to discredit the psychotropic drug movement of the 1960s. (Of course, the real threat is that via the internet children will find that the government-corporate sector has been lying to them about the nature of their world.) This time the corporate media propaganda campaign backfired as cybernetic freedom advocates rallied via the internet itself, discrediting the corporate media's claims.
The end result of the prosecution of Phil Zimmermann, the clipper chip controversy, and the Communications Decency Act (which would provide censorship for the Internet) is that the United States government has alienated the very people on whom the future of its technological progress depends. And by alienating millions of cybernetically oriented citizens, the government has created the groundwork for the very insurgent situation it hoped to avoid.
It is fairly obvious that, whatever the wishes of the state and its corporate allies, it is impossible in the modern world to stop the march of scientific/technological progress. A nation that did so would be doomed, for it would be unable to compete economically or militarily in the real world. It would eventually lose it its place in the modern world and eventually come to be dominated by others who did utilize such technology. We can look at these cases as analogous to the persecution of Galileo and other proponents of the scientific revolution at the opening of the modern era. In the long term, history vindicated the innovators -- the question is, are modern states going to repeat the errors of their predecessors?
SMALLER AND SMALLER
Other technological developments make these trends all the more evident. For example, via nano-technology it will be possible for individual humans to micro-engineer their own bodies -- and beyond that, their minds. One is reminded of the challenge that the psychotropic drug movement posed to the state-corporate sector--once people can change their consciousness, they go beyond the control of the reigning establishment which projects its own narrow vision of reality on society. Simply put, if you are not thinking the thoughts that the ruling class desires, then you are a threat to those in power. Indeed, the power of the modern corporate power structure is in its ability to narrow peoples' vision down to televised images, and their choices down to the acquisition of commodities.
With nano-technology, the individual could re-create themselves in whatever image they desire. One can change his/her health, neural circuitry, etc. Virtual reality is one stage in this process. Virtual reality gives the user not only an altered perception of the world around him/her, but also the ability to change this perception via cybernetic control. (The great failure of the psychotropic movement of the 1960s was that while it succeeded in changing peoples' perception of the world, it was unable to change the world itself.) If one can control the virtual world, then the next logical step is to begin making changes in the real world, i.e., political revolution. Once the individual realizes they can have complete control of his/her own life then the social structures which have arisen over the past several millennia will be rendered obsolete -- and irrelevant.
THE GENERAL STRIKE REALIZED?
If cybernetics is the wave of the future, then those who seize the means of information will gain control of that future. Consequently, revolutionary movements ought to be thinking in terms of mobilizing the class of cybernetic operators and radicalizing them. One objective might be the General Strike of Information Operators (i.e., programmers, computer terminal workers, cybernetic technology specialists, etc.). In this Strike, cybernetic operators would shut down the government-corporate sector, restarting it only on their own revolutionary terms. Of course, these terms would have to be based on a viable political program.
Once again, it all comes back to politics. Unless revolutionary movements have a vision for the future, they will be unable to seize control of the cybernetic frontier. But if they do formulate a policy based not on the dead ghosts of the industrial revolution, but instead on the endless possibilities of cyberspace, then the future is theirs.
part 2 of article