Response to Sunde’s Outlook on the Internet

Motherboard did an interview with Pirate Bay co-founder Peter Sunde concerning the state of the Internet and file-sharing. The conversation was blunt and rather disheartening, focusing on the world’s fading concern of Internet freedom and of capitalist interests, censorship and political involvement changing the web for the worst.

Sunde highlighted the conversation by saying that he has “given up the idea that we can win this fight for the internet”. He continues, “The situation is not going to be any different, because apparently that is something people are not interested in fixing. Or we can’t get people to care enough. Maybe it’s a mixture, but this is kind of the situation we are in, so its useless to do anything about it.” He concluded that a total crash and burn of capitalist control on society is necessary in restoring the net to the vision most beloved by Internet freedom advocates. “stop treating [the] internet like it’s a different thing and start focusing on what you actually want your society to look like. We have to fix society, before we can fix the internet. That’s the only thing.”

I’m mostly agreed with Peter on this. Having followed his blog for several years and being on the same political spectrum, I sympathize with where he arrives at things and how he got there. But I think he arrives at this particular conclusion by looking at a few variables differently than I would, and perhaps leaving a few things out.

A big problem is that, while people do deeply care about the well-being and freedom of the Internet (e.g., EFF, Fight For The Future and Demand Progress), your everyday person is significantly less likely to give a shit on the same level of activists. If they can still check Facebook and watch Netflix, chances of them joining in on protests in Washington D.C. or Berlin over CISA or TPP/TTIP, or defending net neutrality are pretty slim. These days all you can realistically do is run a moderately successful ad campaign that reaches maybe 100 everyday people on such issues when a new piece of legislation comes along, but it seems you won’t be making a notable difference. The common goal should be to get 50 – 60% of an area or country on board with you’re cause, something we haven’t reached since SOPA.

So the solution is to change that: amass great legions of demonstrations and outreach on the issue and make the subject unavoidable in public discourse. Some international movement, greater in size than occupy or WTO, centered around the idea that the Internet is a resource that can’t be controlled by authoritarian or private forces, lest we begin to see the same slowly happen to the other aspects of our lives. That is necessary in the approach of reform, rather than revolution. We can argue that we’ve tried it before and it didn’t work, but did we really try enough to where it got into the region of popularity and effectiveness that we want? We can’t say a massive gathering for changes within the current system didn’t work until we actually get there and see. We haven’t got there because its hard, and we somewhat expected it to be easy to tell people that the utility that they love is constantly under siege in ways they don’t recognize, and suddenly having them on our side. So, in my opinion at least, we need to work hard on this before we consider tearing it all down and starting over.

Another great problem, which is being combatted in the US, is money in politics transforming what we call a democracy into an oligarchy through private campaign financing. Something like making reform to get rid of surveillance, stop attacks and loopholes against fair use, implement net neutrality and other pirate-friendly policies are dead on arrival when you have insane amounts of money perpetuating “I scratch your back; you scratch my back” transactions between representatives and senators and special-interest funders from the right or the copyright defense. The restoration of people, not money, leading in Democracy would be a great light of hope for getting a society like the United States onto a path of fixing things.

As far as ending the capitalist grasp on mankind, or allowing it to begin to eat itself and the society its connected to, this would probably be all thats needed for everything above to happen. In the aftermath, when we’re in the ruins of cities and factories, those remaining could rebuild on more honest principles and pave the way for a socialist technocracy. But I think the idea of letting the system overload by letting it gorge itself with profit, or having the worst possible person like Trump getting elected isn’t guaranteed to work how we would like it to. For all we know, it would only cement things like climate change caused by fossil fuels and pollution, wage slavery and money ruling the world for the future. We can estimate that it would find a way to sustain itself for another decade or two as they officially raise the flag of corporate mob rule — something Orwell didn’t fully anticipate.

We certainly need to put massive industry in its place and sever ourselves from its control, but again, if we follow how the political game is rigged and attempt to reverse-engineer how its been set up through massive global organizing, we have a shot at deescalating the problem before we jump off the cliff hoping that theres something soft to land on.

At the very least, we should consider how information technology shifts over time, perhaps not how we’ve previously seen. I wrote before how the Internet is an undying concept and a front-end of reality that takes on incredible changes and problems every single day, be it from governments, corporate entities or security holes. At the end of the day, its still the Internet and its still possible to do something or create something new that gets you from point A to B. It comes back to it not being as easy as we’ve gotten used to, but still possible. When plain HTTP was found to be susceptible to man-in-the-middle attacks, HTTPS slowly became a norm. Perhaps the same will happen for BitTorrent and how we share files when the MPAA conducts its next strike. Pirates and hackers are too great of a force to allow the future to be a gloomy wasteland without a fight.

I could be totally wrong and we truly are doomed for the entire duration of where we are now, but its better to remain optimistic and try to do something instead of dropping your sword and giving up. Even if its hopeless, I still want to work either through reform and activism, and then — when it becomes necessary, revolution and re-building society in the model of libertarian socialism.

I think if we want the solution right now, want to re-build society free of capitalism entirely and don’t care about the potential for a sub-utopian world that emerged from darker times, the path of revolution and starting over might be what we want. But I would first like to see if we can actually follow a chain of problems within society and apply solutions that restrict abuse of money, attacks on information technology and things that desensitize the public.

To Peter: stay strong, don’t give up everywhere or forever, and do what you love even if people want to control it.

Note: Go watch TPB AFK if you haven’t seen it. Its great.

Response to Sunde’s Outlook on the Internet

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