The New Political Asymmetry: Nowhere to Run, Nowhere to Hide

by Thomas Knapp

The New Political Asymmetry: Nowhere to Run, Nowhere to Hide

We’ve recently entered another new year of full-on global cyber warfare between the world’s failing nation-states on one side and a growing population of networked resistance movements of all varieties and ideologies on the other. In the past week alone, and in the United States alone, two major hacks — of the Federal Reserve and of the Bush family email archive — have clearly demonstrated the asymmetric advantage those movements enjoy.

While headline writers prefer nice, neat organizational attributions (Wikileaks, Anonymous, what have you) with discrete motivations and simple guiding principles to explain the situation, there’s more going on here than meets the mainstream media’s jaundiced eye. They’re missing the forest for the trees. This conflict ultimately resolves down to two belligerent parties: The state on one side, everyone else on the other. And the state is losing.

To be honest, it looked dicey there for awhile: In the final decades of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st, governments worldwide developed surveillance capabilities far beyond anything Orwell imagined in 1984.

All Winston Smith had to worry about were telescreens on the walls, bugs in the bushes and the usual human informers. In the real world, state surveillance has developed along less visible, but more pernicious, lines: Satellite photography. Traffic cameras. Financial transaction monitoring. RFID tracking. Sifting of information gathered from huge databases. Heck, even your cell phone can betray your location and movements not just when you’re using it, but so long as it has battery power.

But what Orwell didn’t anticipate, another author did. The global political class, like it or not (and they don’t, not one bit), is faced with the inverse transparency David Brin predicted in 1998′s The Transparent Society. There are key asymmetries at work which yield huge advantages to the state’s opponents.

Yes, states possess powerful surveillance capabilities, but those capabilities are centrally and hierarchically directed, and accessible only through relatively small and somewhat identifiable forces of operators. And they attempt to seek out and surveill what amount to straw-colored needles in a haystack of seven billion humans.

The world’s networked resistance movements are those needles. It’s much easier for the needle to see and identify the guy with the pitchfork than it is for the guy with the pitchfork to see and identify the needle. There are a lot more needles than there are guys with pitchforks. And the needles have access to their own set of tools — tools which are cheap, easy to use, and available to nearly anyone (including those aforementioned operators!) who might decide, at any time and for any reason, to become a needle.

Two conditions must obtain for the state to maintain its supremacy over the populace.

One is that the political class must know what the populace is up to.

The other is that the populace must NOT know what the political class is up to.

While the state has enjoyed considerable success in its attempts to maintain the first condition, maintaining the second has become for all practical purposes impossible, short of completely crashing civilization as we know it.

Some politicians have suggested ramping up to such last-ditch measures (e.g. former US Senator Joe Lieberman’s “Internet Kill Switch” proposal), but there’s a nasty catch. The two sets of tools involved rely on the same underlying web (pun intended) of technology. To kill one is to kill, or at least substantially cripple, the other. Not immediately, perhaps, but over any significant timeframe.

Any temporary reprieve such measures might produce would ultimately result in the opposite of the desired response. You can’t get between LulzSec and its targets without also getting between the masses and their porn, their funny pictures of cats, their Facebook friends, their stock portfolios. And you don’t do that. Not if you want to live for more than another week or so, anyway.

Here is the new reality: The activities of the political class are now, and from here on out shall remain, under a public magnifying glass. The nation-state as we know it cannot long survive such close and constant examination. We are about to move on to something else.

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7 responses to “The New Political Asymmetry: Nowhere to Run, Nowhere to Hide

  1. The Bush family were careless – not that I support attack upon them (by the way it was an entirely personal attack – nothing to do with government secrets).

    As for the Federal Reserve – nothing important appears to have been hacked (perhaps unfortunately).

    Does the internet age,on balance, help people against the state? It would be nice to think so – but I just do not know.

    Like all tools the internet can be used for good as well as evil.

    Indeed I can remember when the interstate started (back when I was “Lycrophon” at the University of York in 1989) pro freedom people seemed to dominate the discussion boards.

    But then the left got organised in the 1990s – “Move On” , “The Daily Kos” and so on,

    Today even the supposedly neutral sites (such as the Economist magazine comments) are dominated by leftists.

    They just go on like a hive-mind, they wear non leftists down by weight of numbers and the fact that they all say the same things (the things they were taught in school and university – and see in the media).

    “But Paul the internet means the truth can get out….”

    In a democracy – if 51% of people do not know something it is the same as if nobody knew it.

    Think of all the efforts that have been made to get the truth out about Barack Obama and co – most people still have a positive opinion of him (and have as little background knowledge of him as they had in 2004 when he appeared at the Kerry Convention).

    And why not?

    After all porn and celeb gossip (what most people use the internet for) are not going to tell most people anything of importance about Barack Obama an co.

    I would love to be wrong about this. But the opinion polls (and so on) tell a very clear story – the internet has NOT broken the domination of opinion by the collectivists.

    Still there is still hope…….

    Let us hope that above all changes and in a couple of years I have to say……

    “Well lads and lasses – I was wrong. The internet did indeed prove an important tool in rolling back the state”.

  2. I assume there is a Part 2 to come?
    “The nation-state as we know it cannot long survive such close and constant examination.” What nation state are you writing about? Here in the UK we are ruled by a bureaucracy, which takes it’s orders from organisations based outside the country, over which our elected parliament has no power.
    People like Richard North and Christopher Booker exposure the inner workings of such organisations.
    When the truth is told and the corruption exposed we don’t have a mass upraising of angry people demanding change. The Internet allows such exposure but it is to a very small audience. The mass audience is on Facebook and watching television where such matters get no air time or a falsified airing – black is white etc.
    Can anyone imagine the modern equivalent of public demonstrations for more Dreadnoughts? No I can’t either. Where are the crowds outside Staffordshire’s Hospitals demanding criminal charges against the culprits? The majority of people are just not engaged with what is happening to the world round them. The state has trained them to be servile? How do we awaken them?

  3. The majority of people are bovine. The alert, awakened ones do act in accord with your article. But the State (The Beast) doesn’t care as long as the State is seen by the bovine as provider. Were I a hacker I would simply shut down the DHSS (in the UK) or whatever the Dole is now and suspend payments. That might awaken some of the stoople. Also hacking Number Ten and other Government Departments for private emails to show what they really think of us would help. We are seeing the e-pamphleteers but the response from the Lumpen will remain muted until the Lumpen are hungry. The UK is still too rich and too fat for revolt – the water temperature increases daily but the frog does not detect pain yet.

  4. Peter is correct. (see comment above.)

    The really really clever part of the programme to destroy liberalism was the most covert and the least identifiable. It was the corruption of popular culture, attached as this programme-module was to the hollowing-out of education. The education part of course had to start as soon as the bastards could get away with it, which was shortly after the Second World War, when everybody was either dead, bankrupt, drugged, disabled, or asleep and exhausted.

    The popular-culture-corruption was acheieved through management of the Wireless tele-Vision “Service”, which was, of course, as everything still yet was after the War, “owned” by the State.

  5. David – yes.

    “Progressive” education has been intended to undermine private property based civil society, even since the time of Rousseau (and others).

    What happened in Britain (and the United States and…..) around the 1960s, indeed before, is that such types gained power over education.

  6. This in it’s self is a problem, when people gain power over education and the
    media, you have a total dictatorship, irrespect of what ever government sits
    at westminister, there is one clear problem this has created, no government
    can now run the country, as they are unable to control these larger elements
    of the state, which effectively dictate government policy in all areas, it used
    to be said the civil service run government, no matter who get’s elected, this is still very true in relation o politics in the UK.

  7. Ron.

    Richard North and Christopher Booker (in their books and articles) do indeed show government works in practice – regulation by regulation.

    It is hard to see what the internet can do about this.

    They have tried to use the internet to show how government works – but, in a democracy, unless most people are interested it is the same as if no one is interested.

    In theoryParliament could abolish the Civil Service tomorrow (with all its examinations and so on) – after all it is only a mid Victorian invention, it did not always exist.

    Once a minister could hire and fire as they wished.

    But the practical chances of this happening…..