Engineering Resistance: From Hierarchy to Real Democracy

Nov 2, 2011

Engineering Resistance: From Hierarchy to Real Democracy

What does the Internet mean for politics in the West? In the Middle East, WikiLeaks, Al Jazeera, and social networking sites have been credited with putting social and democratic movements on steroids, having played a large role in bringing millions of determined revolutionaries into the streets. Closer to home Bradley Manning remains in military prison, his alleged leaks, have been an inspiring example of information power.

The young are beginning to pry at the secret corporate and military data supra-structures of Western societies and the state from the comfort of their own homes, and recent London riots in response to the killing of Mark Duggan, demonstrate that not just hackers and activists, but also a whole generation of disenchanted youth can now use their new inter-connectivity in ways that profoundly challenge the status-quo.

The Internet is a place for the freedom of ideas, actions, and information. The most important change has been that it has connected nearly all of us together presenting new opportunities for resistance to the status quo. We are now beginning to see the political consequences of this revolutionary technology, and the repressive state response. Access to information and the possibility of direct political organization into the decision making processes of Western states could set the stage for a new age of human development, where hierarchy can be broken, and a real democracy can be built.


We live in a time where economic crisis, war, and environmental destruction seem inevitable and unsolvable within the current order. Every measure against the people is declared as "necessary" or "alternativlos": the transfer of billions out of the public coffers into those of the banks; the multiple fronts in NATO's imperialist wars; and the poverty and pollution which are so pervasive. Elite interests, not democratic or human ones have determined the key political decision making for far too long.
Fortunately, new alternatives to the current political order exist, and those of us determined to find a quick exit from the status-quo, must consider what types of political action and organization have been made possible with the Internet.


Pirating the Parliament

The Internet makes open and democratic societies possible and implies a fundamental change to the current political hierarchy. In every country of the West we have informed publics, saddled with unpopular governments, and for the first time in history there is a medium through which millions can be connected and engaged with very minimal expense. This provides an opportunity to direct parliament, the sovereign political power, with fingertips of the people. We should demand what has been denied since the advent of hierarchy, namely a voice in decisions that affect our lives.

Instead of calling for democratic ‘reforms’ to fix undemocratic regimes, activists should initiate these reforms themselves, by pirating the parliaments, essentially posting the bills of parliament online and asking individuals to vote not just, once every 4-5 years for a party, but to vote on every bill, creating online communities above our own parliaments.

For the next 4 years we will be governed by Harper”s Conservatives who only received 5.8 million votes in the 2011 election. This is not a legitimate benchmark, especially because a majority of Canadians oppose Harper and his right-wing conservative party on practically every issue, from the war in Afghanistan, to the tar sands, to and even legalizing mary-jane. In Canada particularly, and in the West more generally, low voter turnout is symptomatic of the ineffectiveness of parliament and representative democracies in their current forms. 

If the entire banking system can run smoothly online, why couldn't a more transparent and radical democracy. Instead of building parties, the Internet provides the opportunity to effectively organize more democratic parliaments online, in a powerful act of civil disobedience.

Facebook, and other sites have shown, people are not difficult to organize, and a political network may prove to be even more popular than a social network. Progressives of all stripes should not miss the opportunity provided by the Internet to unleash the political consciousness of humanity, and for the first time, make parliament the footstool of the people, letting the politicians write the laws and the individual decide on them.


A new mirror


The collection of greater and greater amounts of information, and its unscheduled releases on the Internet will also have a profound impact on how well we can understand economic and political systems and our own realities. One example of how the Internet is already changing our present reality is SWIFT data, which is a record of all the financial transaction carried out over the Internet inside Europe and elsewhere. In our capitalist world, where everything is monetized, viewing the record of all financial transactions would be like seeing a near perfect mirror image of the power, people, and mechanisms in Europe's modern capitalist economy. Information on this scale could offer a snapshot of our  economic environment so detailed that the abstract concept of economy could be largely removed from the realm of theory.

In a similar vein, Bradly Manning 's brave leak of US intelligence has given us a detailed, and importantly truthful account of international politics and the horrific "War On Terror" (a reality still unaccepted by mass news media), in a single act of civil disobedience. His arrest marked him as the first of a very new breed of political prisoner, their only crime releasing previously hidden information to the light of day. What is usually forgotten in discussions about, what the media labels as, "cybercrime" is that the hacker is a model pacifist, who, using their own specialist knowledge of the Internet environment give the public an opportunity to spy in on the corporations and governments that have been spying on us for decades. The sheer volume and insecurity of sensitive data available online has given the hacker access to information like never before, and with every release we gain a more accurate view of how the world works today. 

On an individual level, our own digital footprint, appears to be an immortal and intimate mark of our own existence, scratched into cyberspace for eternity. We cannot be sure how our grandchildren will judge us, but they'll certainly know nearly everything about us. Future generations will have access to our various profiles, uploaded pictures, and thousands of personal messages to friends and family. They may even go so far as to say we created our own virtual resting place, for unlike our bodies which will decompose, and our graves and memories which are eventually lost, there is no time horizon on our digital footprint.

The digital footprint of every individual also has important political consequences for both those in power and those who resist them. Information is the weapon of the "hacktivist", wresting it from those who have crimes to hide, and positions to lose, with secrets that will not remain so for long. Our information society is becoming a very leaky one. The various State security agencies have reacted with repression and were quick to use the same techniques to tract down members of this relatively small group of Internet savvy youth, the grassroots leaders of a cyber generation, following their digital footprints from the Internet to their homes in Suburbia.

Over the past year several dozen young individuals across Europe and the United States, all accused of association with Anonymous, Lulzsec, and No Name Crew have been arrested by Western governments which have seemingly uniformly taken an aggressive stance against politically motivated action on the web. The repression and arrests have met with very little resistance from the larger activist community, and with the exception of Bradley Manning, there has been an overwhelming lack of ideological and practical support given to these political prisoners. Solidarity is what's needed, these "hackers" are just activists, at the forefront of the struggle over information and justice, holding the institutions around us accountable by throwing into the public eye their inner workings and crimes.


In the West the Internet is quickly turning into a powerful political tool with a wide range of possibilities. An age without a future spawns a revolutionary generation and some of the pacifist revolutionaries of this fight are already locked away behind bars. A path to peaceful co-existence and a more human oriented society requires democracy and freedom. Freedom of information and freedom of political organization. It is time humans learned to to trust each other, and no one else, in the active governance of the nations, a tangible and effective democracy need only be just around the corner.


I'm sentimental, if you know what I mean
I love the country but I can't stand the scene.
And I'm neither left or right
I'm just staying home tonight,
getting lost in that hopeless little screen.
But I'm stubborn as those garbage bags
that Time cannot decay,
I'm junk but I'm still holding up
this little wild bouquet:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

Leonard Cohen