Posted on Dec 7, 2016 by Rick Falkvinge

Tensions are rising, there are cracks in the façade, and change is in the air. When and how will things snap?

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Tensions between the industrial-age establishment and the networked people-at-large have been rising for years, if not for two decades. Politicians and elites striving to paint themselves on moral high horses are seen as increasingly isolated from the real world, enriching themselves at the expense of everybody else – not just expense in a monetary sense, but even more so in a liberty sense. With a perceived establishment increasingly insisting on their worldview, using an increasing amount of political violence and in contrast with people at large, major changes are inevitably in the cards.

There are many signs that the political establishment is losing touch with reality – basically, losing touch with everything that happened since the Internet. The political structures they’re a part of were built to solve the problems of a different era, and those organizations are institutionally incapable of realizing that today’s conflicts are completely different from those that defined the industrial age. Therefore, politicians do two things – they keep hammering home messages that come across as increasingly irrelevant, while at the same time strengthening their own reality bubble where they are denying that the world is changing, has already changed, around them.

The examples of this are legion. You’ve got the increasing mass surveillance, which is little more than a desperate attempt at getting a sense of control: if you know what people are talking about, you can tell yourself you’re on top of the situation – but this only works as long as you’re not also in utter denial of that data. You’ve got the zero and even negative interest rates from central banks, which is something that hasn’t happened in the entire written history of finance (and that’s going back to 3,000 BCE Sumerian Cuneiform), and where said establishment is adamant everything is the utmost normality and nothing to worry about.

And then you have everything related to the Internet. Absolutely everything. All that was must be protected against all that is, according to said establishment, at ridiculous cost to both jobs and liberty.

The UK is preparing for ten years in prison for teenagers who share music and movies directly, as people have always done but in violation of the copyright distribution monopoly, on the basis that they theoretically may have caused somebody to not earn as much money as they feel they should have. This is a prime example of a “let them eat cake” moment: in a referendum, would such a draconian measure even get a single percentage point of support?

This is not entirely unlike the era of the arrival of the printing press, where the establishment was also in complete denial of the mere possibility that they may be wrong, and that other ideas may have more merit than the consensus of the establishment bubble. In that time, they also reacted with punishing the unauthorized carriers, couriers, and copiers of ideas (punishing unauthorized copying not by ten years in jail but by death penalty), rather than meeting them in open debate – because when you have overwhelming force on your side, it’s just easier to do so. At least for a while, until the tension snaps.

The latest establishment notions to “ban fake news” is a ridiculous example of this. There have been fake news for centuries, most of it really funny even when it ultimately describes something real, and those fake newspapers (like Weekly World News) have been in the newsstands beside ordinary newspapers for just as many centuries.

But suddenly when fake news are distributed over the Internet, they’re a problem that requires unprecedented curtailment of liberty? They were not a problem when they were right beside The Economist in the newsstands? Seriously, WTF?

When you cut out a man’s tongue, you are not proving him wrong, you are only telling the world you fear what he might say. — George R R Martin

As an anecdotal illustration of these attempts to control the narrative, in my native country of Sweden, there are now hand grenades detonating in the gang wars every now and then in the streets where I live, outside my window, all while the evertalking ivory-tower politicians preach about “taking people’s concerns seriously” and repeating “we have never been as safe as today”, which just rings hollow. I don’t care about politicians taking my concerns seriously while parroting apparent nonsense, I much prefer them to take goddamn hand grenades in my street seriously.

In the European Union, instead of addressing people’s cause for concern, politicians seem to be addressing the concerns themselves, which is an enormous difference – not to say outright dangerous. We can detect the same pattern in the United States and parts of Latin America.

When I can’t walk home safely, I just get angry when the taxation money I’ve worked hard for is being spent on things like gender pronoun awareness campaigns and parental leave bonuses within the administration instead of on fixing basic security and foundational liberty in the streets. The elites are now so far isolated from the common people, they’re not even aware that they’re working at the utterly wrong level of the Maslow Pyramid of Human Needs: politicians and establishment are operating at level five (self-emancipation) with society at large at level two (basic safety concerns).

This is relevant because if I feel such irritation personally, I shudder to think what the general opinion is like. My gut feeling tells me the general resentment is far, far worse than what I’m feeling personally.

This ties in to what we do at Private Internet Access: We should not even exist. Literally. Our existence is compensating for the failure of our elected leaders to guarantee safety and liberty as they are oathsworn to do: our existence allows people to make privacy and liberty their own responsibility when politicians aren’t up to the task. And they’re not.

Let’s take that again: politicians are not up to the task to guarantee everybody’s liberty. They seem to have forgotten what it is, and why it is important to guarantee it for everybody, and gotten lost in a labyrinth of random prestigious ivory-tower projects instead.

It’s important to note here that so-called “civilization” is a very, very thin veneer on top of human nature. When our safeties break down. when people no longer trust the environment to keep them safe, the safeties break down fast and hard. The default state of human organization appears to be violent strongman tribalism, which has always been the “reset point” when something more elaborate breaks down. Western so-called liberal democracy is not immune to such breakdown, just as no other “forever society” has been immune in the past.

It’s impossible to predict exactly when such a tension snap happens, or what the trigger will be. But when it happens, it happens fast.

The Berlin Wall came down in a single sudden day, after having been an eternal monument for several decades. The Soviet Union likewise collapsed in a single sudden day, after having been an eternal society for decades. There is no thing we regard as eternal today that is immune to the same mechanisms. When it happens, there is nothing controlled or slow about it.

What’s interesting in those contexts is that people could feel change coming ahead. Just before the fall of the Soviet Union (and the entire Eastern Bloc), people were still saying that things are forever, but everybody felt there was change in the air. This started with Gorbachev’s Perestroika reforms, when people could start discussing the state of things for real.

2017 could see the European Union effectively collapse over a single day, for example. Paths that lead to this scenario could involve the Italian Five Star Movement calling a referendum on reverting Italy to a national currency and leaving the Euro, while French president Marine le Pen calls for a French exit from the EU, while again a Greek default forces Greece out of the eurozone and triggers a cascade default leading all the way up to Deutsche Bank. These are not improbable events by themselves, but taken together, they’re part of the perfect-storm “tensions are rising and something’s gotta give” observation against the ivory tower in Brussels (and elsewhere).

The United States is not immune from such dissolution either, with tensions similarly escalating between a perceived elite and most other people. Just like everything else, it is forever until the day it’s not – even if it’s hard to see a path to such an event today (with the possible exception of the geopolitical overdraft of the US Dollar).

Tensions are rising. Politicians are reacting with isolating themselves even further, eroding our liberties and privacy, in direct violation of public opinion (and often in violation of constitutions, too). In the end, something’s gotta give: the rubber band can only stretch so far until it snaps to a new equilibrium.

In summary, people seem to feel that change is in the air. Learning from history, that means something important is about to happen. When it does, a government will always protect itself first.

Therefore, as always, privacy and liberty remain your own responsibility.

About Rick Falkvinge

Rick is Head of Privacy at Private Internet Access. He is also the founder of the first Pirate Party and is a political evangelist, traveling around Europe and the world to talk and write about ideas of a sensible information policy. Additionally, he has a tech entrepreneur background and loves good whisky and fast motorcycles.

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  1. BobTrower

    Yeah. Something’s got to give. We will shift to new ways to allocate wealth. We will change how power is allocated and used. We will shift to new kinds of personal rights. Things will change because they can, they must, and they already are. It cannot be a question of ‘if’. As a technical matter, it is already becoming a question of ‘when’ and ‘how’. I hope our experiment in Iceland goes well. I would like to see a true revolution where we completely alter wealth, power, and personal rights to reflect not what was, but what can be. I think that as a technical matter it can happen at the polls even if they are to some extent corrupt. However, I fear that we will go the dystopic route and see physical revolutionary behavior that is crushed with prejudice. Yikes.

    I have particular concerns about the Internet. It has been a spectacularly liberating force, but it is already being undermined and the groundwork is being laid to essentially shut it down. IPv4 is ridiculous and IPv6 is no cure. DNS is way too shaky and DNSSEC is not even close to a cure. All of the protocols we rely upon have been dictated by and are administered and controlled by some of the least trustworthy players. Some of those players are actually enemies we are trying to secure against. PKI is useless if the CAs are untrustworthy. Security on the Internet is deeply flawed to the point of complete dysfunction. Spam should be effectively impossible and yet it remains more than half of the volume of the Email system it preys upon.

    You would think that critical Internet issues that have been long-standing and well characterized, would be solved. They have not been and that leads me to believe that many of the people who know better maintain the status-quo so they can take advantage of its many weaknesses.

    As things are going now, we are heading toward Internet ‘walled gardens’, aggressive suppression of free speech, complete cartel control of resources and the knowledge to use them and constant 24/7 state surveillance. Similar to the ‘Iron Law of Wages’, there are ‘Iron Laws’ of other things such as all Resources, Freedom to speak, privacy, Knowledge, Association, etc. Unless we push back as a body politic, force our rights into law, control the state’s coercive power and maintain the rule of law, we can expect to be reduced to senseless slaves subsisting on the barest minimums of anything that makes life worth living.

    With the ‘Occupy’ movement the establishment has demonstrated that they are not above coordinating efforts to use physical violence to maintain their control. I expect it to get a lot nastier before it gets better. However, I think there is a promising route to curing our situation through aggressive pursuit of political power. I think it is possible that a very well planned approach to gaining control of the existing political system could rapidly replace the existing power structure before they know what is happening. 🙂

    2 years ago
  2. Antimon555

    It’s strange that it’s a well-known “truth”, even among the privacy-minded, that almost no one cares about Internet privacy, it is very rarely discussed online, and extremely rarely discussed in the media, yet at least half the people I speak with AFK have some kind of concern regarding privacy, most commonly about big companies’ data collection.

    I think we are being duped by the mass media – even if we think we know they are mostly spreading propaganda, we are still caught off-guard and somehow accept their world view about privacy above the one we see with our own eyes. I wonder in how many areas we do the same thing.

    This is really a problem, because even if one knows one is right and everyone else is wrong, it’s very hard to talk about it when one thinks there is no chance of getting any form of understanding. There may be ten people in a room, all care deeply about privacy, but no one brings it up because everyone thinks the other nine would think it’s stupid.

    For the hand grenade problem, maybe some local store should start selling Lexan shield windows – Safe Window Access, now with 2048 m/s shrapnel protection :-p – about as crazy as the need for VPN, when you think about it…

    2 years ago