December 15th, 2010


The First Global Cyber War: Centralization vs. Decentralization

WikiLeaks backlash: The first global cyber war has begun, claim hackers | Media | The Observer

In a lot of science fiction, there is, in the story's past, many decades or even centuries or millennia before its subjective present, some sort of conflict that destroys the old order, and from its ashes rise a new one. We usually think of post-apoaclyptic fiction, ala Fallout, but this is not always the case; BattleTech had its "Second Soviet Civil War" which helped spurred the creation of a world government, and that can hardly be considered post-apocalyptic fiction. (Maybe apocalyptic, in some eyes.) Star Trek had World War III--in fact, lots of fiction had some sort of World War III--Halo had various conflicts on Earth and its intrasystem colonies...although this is a rather sparse list of examples, you get the drill. (In order to not distract myself, I'm not opening any new tabs to look for more.)

I've always wondered if we would have such a conflict, or some sort of event, in real life, that would fundamentally alter our progression into the future. Some have looked to the War on Terror or the iPhone as such moments, and while they are no doubt significant and important, I've looked to something more radical, more revolutionary, more fundamentally drastic. And since we're still not going to have AI during my lifetime, no matter what Ray Kurzweil says, I'm looking to human actions for such a sign.

Reading the above article, I felt what I was looking for for so long. Granted, a lot of it is no doubt The Guardian's own overhyping of the situation; they are, after all, a left-wing newspaper, and the Assange/WikiLeaks situation is seen as something of a left-wing rallying point (at least from where I'm sitting.) But I have no reason to doubt that the underpinnings of this article are, in fact, true. And when you read phrases like "seemed to be the first sustained clash between the established order and the organic, grassroots culture of the net," and "No one seems certain where the febrile cyber conflict will lead, only that it has just begun," you can't help but think that "Wow, something really big is going on. Something radical. Something that will change all of human society, perhaps forever."

I've been saying for the past two years now, almost three, that what's going on with the global recession and our economic woes is really the beginnings of the downfall of the old order. We've seen central banks around the world, and particularly in America, scurrying to protect the finances of their commercial backers while debasing the public currency, while governments bail out their corporate friends at the citizenry's expense and establish more rules that prevent those from the underclass from ever realizing their full potential and getting a chance to challenge the old dogs on a level playing field. Yet for all of this, what have they gotten? Barely anything. Although they've staved off a worse collapse (jury's still out on that one, though), their "success" is only fleeting. Already holes are appearing in the "jobless recovery," self-evident just from its name. There is no certainty we're out of the woods, and it appears that our "leaders" are just careening from one crisis to another. Moreover, although they've engaged in plenty of media massaging (and no, that's not a typo, I really mean that they're massaging the media) in order to improve their PR, it hasn't really worked. Certainly a great number of people have bought their message, but an even greater number haven't, and are either just skeptical or outright opposed to it.

This article, for me at least, crystallized and helped me realized exactly what is going on here. This conflict is not between libertarians and socialists, doves and hawks, Democrats and Republicans, or any other two groups. It is between two forces: centralization vs. decentralization. The former is the old way of doing things, with massive corporations buying huge amounts of influence with a central government, that increasingly micromanages not only its subnational units but also its own citizenry, infecting all aspects of life that can be arranged from a central authority. The latter is the new way of doing things, and is best exemplified by the "dooacracy" of Burning Man, the open source movement, Wikis, micromanufacturing, peer-to-peer services (of all kinds, not just file downloading), and DIY methods to all sorts of problems. While the 20th century was a period of centralization, the 21st century appears to be a period of decentralization, not only politically, but also socially, economically, culturally, and maybe even spiritually (goodbye to the Catholic Church? At the risk of offending my more devout friends, I surely hope so!)

This is only natural; as information has been spread, it is impossible to keep it all contained in one location. We've seen this most in the media sphere; in the past, large news organizations acted as the gatekeepers to information; only what they wanted to print or broadcast ended up in the public discussion. Through various means, power holders and the "elite" could keep the public in the dark. But with the rise of blogs, cheap recording equipment, and citizen journalism, no longer can anyone keep anyone in the dark. Wikileaks is a prime example; the original attempt at shutting it down only made it more resilient, spreading its information out farther, and now, as the article notes, it is effectively immune to attack. Unless every government and major corporation unite in a flawless, coordinated "strike" against the Wikileaks data, it will survive, somewhere. And potentially even then.

As for this war, I know not how long it shall last. It may be six weeks. It may be six months. It may even last six decades. But I do know, if it is not stopped in its infancy, our society will be changed irrevocably. With the power structures holding up the current regime already suffering structural integrity failure simply by how they're built, the application of some force will cause it to crumble into dust. It's possible that this First Global Cyber War will banish the state--or at least its heavily intrusive variant--into the annals of history for good, as people find new ways to work around the state and their corporate parasites shoving products into their faces 24/7. We're already seeing that those entities are not responding well to the hackers, as the shut down of, PayPal, Visa, and Mastercard's websites have shown. And if, god forbid, they gathered enough computers together and took down, say, the DoD network, we'll know who's won. (If the Chinese don't jump in.)

Looking at this, I can't help but feel that we're at a turning point. We're seeing the public itself, and its right to know, openly challenging the system of suppression and dominance we've been forced to live under for the past several decades. We're seeing the beginnings of an event that will forever change our history, and may one day be recorded in the history books paralleling the Battle of Marathon, the collapse of the Roman Empire, the invention of electricity, or the dropping of the nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Maybe.

May we live in interesting times.