Categories: philosophy, politics, web

You Can’t Shut WikiLeaks Without Shutting Democracy

My mother just asked what i thought about WikiLeaks … and finally I had an answer (my gut reaction from the beginning has been to support WikiLeaks, but i haven’t articulated that support till now):

1. There is nothing you can do about it.

The internet is designed to support anonymous dumping of masses of documents. You can “shut down” WikiLeaks, but it doesn’t matter: there will be any number of ways anyone with documents they wish to leak will be able to do so, including reams of similar projects that will pop up all over the world, smarter and better than WikiLeaks. Trying to stop WikiLeaks is a pointless exercise, unless you wish to give the state the right to designate people or organizations illegal at will, with no due process.

2. If you shut WikiLeaks with law, you shut the free press.

If you say that the government can prosecute people for publishing information that the government doesn’t want published – for “national security” or any other reason – then you no longer have a free press or free speech. If the government has the ability to outlaw public discussions on whatever topics they please, based on national security, the government then can control the speech of the press, private citizens, and any other kind of mixture of the two. This is what Lieberman’s SHIELD law proposes.

So: there is no point in trying to stop WikiLeaks, and if you do, you have to criminalize activities that are fundamental to our understanding of Western Democracy. There’s not really a middle road, as far as I can tell.

Those Darned Kids

Kids boycott classroom with CCTV cameras. People call them brats. Kids respond with an op-ed that every adult should read.

Many users suggested that cameras were a good idea because they could be used to keep an eye on bullying and student behaviour, we were accused of been “narcissistic megalomaniacs” angry at “being nabbed for our churlish troublemaking”. This stereotypical and frankly ignorant view ignores the fact that Davenant Foundation School produces some of the best exam results in Essex. Violent behaviour among pupils is simply not an issue, making the justification for putting cameras in our classrooms more surprising…

Eroding standards in schools and deteriorating discipline are down to a broken society and the failure of the education system. The truth is that we are whatever the generation before us has created. If you criticise us, we are your failures; and if you applaud us we are your successes, and we reflect the imperfections of society and of human life. [more…]

[via boing]

The Tourist Dynamic

My pal Chris wrote a moving post about an experience he had growing up in South Africa, a white boy who went with his church to talk about Jesus in the “coloured” townships.

Which made me think about traveling and the relationship we rich, “white,”[*] educated people have with the rest of the world. I commented on Chris’ blog, but here’s what I wrote:

I was in Cuba some years ago on holiday and I recall reading before I went about how Cuba had been “spoiled” by tourism, and how you couldn’t have a genuine interaction with people any more because they see Westerners only for their wallets now. It’s true, as far as it goes – those Cubans did see me as a wallet.

But these days (even then), that kind of talk makes me angry, because built into it is this assumption that we deservea certain kind of treatment, as if the world is a kind of park, where we can go visit various places to get wonderful experiences: Bhutan for the mountains and the sage monks & yak-milk tea; Philippines for the sunrise while visiting tropical islands in a skiff guided by a wiseacre biologist; Hong Kong where we can do commerce with the shouting market people, who get such a kick out of Gweilos straying beyond Kowloon. Drinking beer late at night in the veld listening to stories of African leopards. Cuba for sexy music and smiling, dancing people.

I’ve experienced all these things and loved them, they are experiences I cherish. But I have done these things, am able to do these things because I am wealthy and white, and the world, truly is my oyster. I remember being in university, thinking: I will travel the world, I will undertake adventures, I will see distant land and do great things. And for a few years I did. I loved it; it was dashing and daring and exotic and all the things it’s supposed to be. And granted to me with ease, and no sacrifice, because of who and what I am.

I hated that trip to Cuba, not because Cubans see me for a wallet — which actually is “annoying” — but rather because of what I, as tourist, saw Cuba as: a place filled with people who should like me for who I am, give me the benefit of the doubt, people who should see beyond my colour and my new running shoes and instead have a conversation with me about what life is really like for them, because, well, I’d be happy to do the same for them if they came to Canada. That is, I saw Cuba as: entertainment. I’d paid for it, and didn’t get what I wanted.

And it pissed me off, not that Cuba didn’t deliver; but rather that I had put myself in that position, of “he who has paid to be entertained.” I don’t mean that on a surface sense, but at a deeper level. Tourism puts us in such an odd dynamic with people: you are there to get something out of an “experience” … joy, wisdom, commune with nature, commune with another culture, history, something…And the exchange? What do we give up? Our time and our money. Only one of which is worth anything to anyone.

I have this odd feeling that tourism and it’s thinly veiled cousin, “international development,” are about as colonial as a military invasion: the real beneficiaries are the tourists, the NGO’s and their rich, adventuresome consultants; just as the beneficiaries of military invasions are rarely those under whose name invasions happen, these days at least.

I say all this because I am conflicted by Chris’ story of the townships … I have been treated well by people all over the world, treaded poorly by others; i’ve been robbed and cheated, threatened and bored to death. All of it great, and I wouldn’t trade it. Saying I’ve had yak’s milk in Bhutan gives me great pleasure (I was there to “help” the Bhutanese, naturally).

But it’s curious when our own innocence or blindness is caught out — as I guess the young Chris Hughes’ was — by something so moving, which is the twin realization that:
a) we do not belong somewhere
and yet:
b) we are welcomed nonetheless.

I think that might be just the thing that irks me about our modern white fascination with “doing” Asia, or “doing Columbia,” … this assumption that we do belong there. It’s our world afterall.

So I find Chris’ story very moving because, I interpret it something as a recognition that he did not belong where he was … and yet….and yet…there was kindness, despite his naivete, despite where he came from, despite the preposterousness of the situation, and not because of it.

* Re: “white” I use this term broadly, and really it’s the wrong term. It’s not “white”, so much as “affluent middle-class, educated westerner…” I’m using it as a cultural marker, not a racial one; though the two are not totally unrelated.

Categories: art, philosophy, video

The Examined Life

I went to see The Examined Life last night, a really, really good film about … philosophy. Wonderfully done. Interviews with eight philosophers (Zizek, Cornell West, Judith Butler and more) about their thoughts and work.

It’s no easy feat making an entertaining feature-length talking-head documentary, especially about philosophy, but Astra Taylor succeeds in this one. Not sure if/when it will be available online, or where you can see it, but here is the trailer:

My big question though is when are the action figures coming out? Cornell West vs. Peter Singer throwdown!

Categories: philosophy

Done is the Engine of More

The Cult of Done Manifesto

  1. There are three states of being. Not knowing, action and completion.
  2. Accept that everything is a draft. It helps to get it done.
  3. There is no editing stage.
  4. Pretending you know what you’re doing is almost the same as knowing what you are doing, so just accept that you know what you’re doing even if you don’t and do it.
  5. Banish procrastination. If you wait more than a week to get an idea done, abandon it.
  6. The point of being done is not to finish but to get other things done.
  7. Once you’re done you can throw it away.


Categories: philosophy, technology

Better than Owning?

I have to think about this little bit more. Kevin Kelly has a compelling argument that access is better than ownership (because it comes with fewer responsibilities), for social goods such as movies, books, music. But one thing that strikes me is that while “consuming” might work in this model, the true test is what you can do with a good, and who gets to decide. In any case:

Ownership is not as important as it once was.

I use roads that I don’t own. I have immediate access to 99% of the roads and highways of the world (with a few exceptions) because they are a public commons. We are all granted this street access via our payment of local taxes. For almost any purpose I can think of, the roads of the world serve me as if I owned them. Even better than if I owned them since I am not in charge of maintaining them. The bulk of public infrastructure offers the same “better than owning” benefits.

The web is also a social common good. The web is not the same as public roads, which are “owned” by the public, but in terms of public access and use, the web is a type of community good. The good of the web serves me as if I owned it. I can summon it in full, anytime, with the snap of a finger. Libraries share some of these qualities. The content of the books are not public domain, but their displays (the books) grant public access to their knowledge and information, which is in some ways better than owning them.

Very likely, in the near future, I won’t “own” any music, or books, or movies. Instead I will have immediate access to all music, all books, all movies using an always-on service, via a subscription fee or tax. I won’t buy – as in make a decision to own — any individual music or books because I can simply request to see or hear them on demand from the stream of ALL. I may pay for them in bulk but I won’t own them. The request to enjoy a work is thus separated from the more complicated choice of whether I want to “own” it. I can consume a movie, music or book without having to decide or follow up on ownership. [more…]

Categories: philosophy, politics, video

Conservatives and Liberals

I was just in London for BookCamp (fantastic, see my comments here). When I fly, I usually download a number of TED Talks to watch on the plane. Loved this one, about the moral decision-making of liberals and conservatives.

Categories: philosophy, politics, video

Happy New Year!

[via liber.rhetoricae]

Categories: philosophy, politics, video

Why Don’t We Ask Why?

david simonDavid Simon is a former journalist who quit his job because he could no longer do it the way he wanted to do it: the companies that run papers these days don’t want their journalists to ask the most important question out of the famous five Ws + H (who what where when why how) … That is: Why? … It’s the tough one, that takes time and attention and doggedness, and it just doesn’t seem to work well with the “bottom line” (which, for those counting, is looking pretty grim).

Eventually Simon, along with a former cop, and former teacher, created the TV show the Wire,

In this talk at Berkeley, he explains why he is not (or maybe is) the most angry man in television, how the decline of journalism is paired with our disfunctional democracy, how a barge, not a hurricane, caused the floods in New Orleans, lies, damn lies and statistics, systematic corruption, and how we should all pick something to give a shit about and, absurd or not, fight for it.

Here is the video. Watch it. It’s the most compelling bit of web content I’ve seen in a long, long time.

the intimacy of audio

I gave a semi-impromptu presentation/discussion yesterday at Podcamp Montreal* on “The Intimacy of Audio.”

I’ve always felt that audio is the most intimate communication medium, and in the session yesterday I wanted to explore the idea of intimacy further. In particular, I wonder how we can build and use technology to help people become more closely connected with the things that are important to them, rather than just feeding more information faster and better. Much of my experience of technology seems to detract from my life rather than add to it (though of course I get great value too). I’m a slave to my computer and the web, and so much of it is distraction from things I find important.

That is why I like podcasts – because they let me get *away* from technology, and into a place where I can be more intimately connected with ideas and thoughts and emotions. Good podcasts (and good radio and good audiobooks) make me think in ways that I can’t when I am sitting in front of the computer, checking RSS feeds and answering emails. They’re also great when cooking, or driving long distances.

With LibriVox, I think, we’ve used technology to help people find this intimacy, by helping volunteers read texts that are important to them in a closer and deeper way. That people like me get to listen occasionally is a wonderful side-benefit.

In discussing the “intimacy of audio,” I played a really moving piece from Scarborough Dude’s Dicksnjanes podcast, about the death of a young boy from the neighbourhood. Here’s the excerpt (mp3-slightly edited). And here is the full episode.

We had a great talk afterwards, with comments from CC Chapman, Mitch Joel, Julien, Steph, Yanik, Patrick, and a host of other people whose names and/or URLs I don’t know (if you were one, please let me know).

There are a few other bits of audio that have really moved me, and that I thought of playing for the gang, but didn’t:

(Though my podcasting listening habits tend more to public radio/professional stuff, three out of four of the most moving audio bits I’ve heard were from DIY podcasts – not surprising, I guess, but significant).

In preparation for the presentation, I asked for some suggestions from the LibriVox community of the most moving bits of audio from that collection, which I didn’t have the chance to play. Here are some of the suggestions:

Any other suggestions for audio tearjerkers on the web?

I wonder what it is about audio that can deliver such intimacy in ways that text and video can’t? Why is the Scarbdude piece so moving? And, how can “we” do more to help make technology address our need for intimacy – creating it, connecting with it – rather than just flooding us with more information and efficient ways to organize things?

*And by the way, a huge congrats to Michelle, Sylvain, Laurent, Laurent, Julien, Bob, Jean-Fran├žois, Harold and Mitch for putting together what everyone I talked to says was the best podcamp they’ve attended.