13 March 2015

Striving to be Snowdenlike

Harry J. Bentham

If Edward Snowden had not taken refuge in a non-Western country, he would be under torture or worse. Even though this martyrdom was prevented by his asylum, Snowden has already become a model of personal resistance and a one-man revolution against the world's most powerful government.

Above all, we must recognize that Snowden is victorious. His actions have put the state on the defensive, forcing it to reconsider the policies it arrogantly implemented without the consent of the public. Therein lies an example to us all.

Those of us who would criticize Snowden should examine themselves and their own deeds, and compare them with his. He is a titan. There is no chastising that the people who merely write or speak, such as I, can do to a man who accomplished such great deeds, but only praise. By contrast with him, the rest of us can only be called slacktivists: we have fought only for our freedom to do nothing.

Now that the state (not just the US but Britain et al) has become even more paranoid at the potential for one man's dissent to humiliate and disrupt its immoral and illegal actions, it seems unlikely that any leaker in the future will have anything like the triumph Snowden achieved over the security state. Or will they?

I write this question, because the theory of a technological emancipation, and of transhumanism in particular, has always made a prediction about politics. I would argue that prediction already became a reality in the person of Snowden. One day, governments, perhaps even whole armies, will be eradicated by solitary individuals in the right place, in the right time, and in the right information. Technology has always led to concentrating greater power in the hands of fewer people, but it is often indiscriminate and anarchic in doing so. The epitome of that technological perfection would be an individual capable of slaying whole armies and remaking the world according to the kind of justice and accountability that only a single, unburdened and unapologetic person can guarantee.

Sociologically speaking, the time of monolithic collectives and nation-states is coming to the end of its "sociocultural evolution", at least in what we have called the western world. We are, more and more, beginning to realize that individuals rather than institutions will eventually be able to accomplish anything they set their mind to. Individuals: the so-called "smart rats" or "high-tech rebel elite" promised by Julian Assange in his conversations in Cypherpunks. Men and women who will be able to outmaneuver, outrun, and outfox entire governments, including the world's most powerful government. In the face of these titans, governments will need to admit that they have lost their monopoly on controlling who is respected or listened to, or what information the public is exposed to. Further, it is only a matter of time before they altogether lose their monopoly on force and are rendered politically powerless, mere artifacts of a brutish and primitive past.

The ramifications of this spontaneous upgrade to our "societal operating system", positive and negative, have to be examined seriously by the upgrade's supporters and opponents alike. But the inevitability of this change of power-relations to adapt an increasingly horizontal form is hard to deny.

The Internet, like any revolution in media, has its detractors. Arguments against its effects on society say that it creates heightened confusion, immersing people in profuse conflicting information that debases us in comparison with the sense of "truth" ensured by loyalist propaganda (people in Britain once only listened to the BBC and rejected any other source as foreign). This is true enough, but we would be wrong to believe that the state is not now equally confused and diverted from any sense of purpose as its people, and therein lies its new vulnerability.

The Internet is annoying to everyone, whether for or against the government, or on either side of the political spectrum, precisely because it is impossible to control - for good or ill. Anarchy, which the Internet has been described as the "greatest experiment in", makes us more powerless than ever, but also more powerful than ever - if you know what to do.

The reality is that those who relied on a neo-feudal monopoly, some form of estate, or more traditional top-down mechanisms of control - like the state, mainstream press outlets and "reputable" journalists - are more powerless, ignored and confused than ever in their history. The rest of us merely "feel" more powerless and confused than ever, but this is only because we weren't as aware of how powerless and confused we actually were in the past. In other words, the equilibrium between people caused by the Internet has created a world with fewer conspiracies but more conspiracy theories.

For the majority of people, whether they realize it or not yet, the Internet has produced a net increase in the ability to disseminate vital information and grievances to others, and increased the opportunity to protest. This isn't to say that the preponderance of people with wrong or crazy ideas, or too lazy to take action in the real world, has decreased because of the Internet. Rather, that number has increased. But it is true that the groups of people with right ideas are bigger now, because of the Internet - much bigger, and more refined and geographically distributed.

What has happened to the monopoly of information already will happen to the monopoly of everything else. It will crumble. The "leakers" of the future will not merely be leaking information, but entire proprietary technologies, even weapons that could drastically empower the self-defense of oppressed people and less fortunate nations on another hemisphere. Let me clarify by stating that if additive manufacturing or atomically-precise manufacturing allow vehicles and other personal technologies to be adapted and built on-site in impoverished regions with minimal resources, the world's biggest experiment in anarchy will no longer be just an experiment.

After personal computers, and the leakers who used them, there will be dozens of other personal technologies and enhancements that will be equally challenging to the power and authority of the state. It is not outrageous to theorize now that these technologies will have their own leakers and their own vanguards of "high-tech rebels", who will recognize the needs of the many as the only arbitrators of a model global society.

As many have predicted, future generations will admire Edward Snowden for the service he did for the public and, indeed, the whole world. His rebellion against the world's only superpower is unprecedented, in a way that compares only with messiahs spoken of in the past. Of all the individuals in the world to admire or strive to be like at this time, it can be argued that Snowden stands out as the greatest such authority. That is how he should be regarded by anyone who acknowledges the virtue of democratizing the utmost knowledge and power to each individual.

Snowden should have special resonance for people who see technology as having the potential to liberate humanity and transform human "nature", so his actions should have special resonance for transhumanists. It is my assessment that the great power of single individuals may mean that we need no transhumanist collective, movement, party, or state, although these things are good insofar as they raise awareness of transhumanism's promise of change and bring more candidates into the pool. What political transhumanism needs are titans. We need super-activists, equipped with so much skill, so much personal technology, and so much insider knowledge that they can bring unjust governments and hierarchies crashing down with their own hands.

These titans will know they have won, when they are recognized as world powers in their own right, and the futurists who foresaw their arrival will declare that we saw them coming and we can help adapt global society to the more horizontal form entailed by their arrival.

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