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The cognitive linguist George Lakoff wants liberals to stop thinking like enlightenment scholars and start thinking about appeals to the “cognitive unconscious.” He asks that progressives “embrace a deep rationality that can take account of, and advantage of, a mind that is largely unconscious, embodied, emotional, empathetic, metaphorical, and only partially universal. A New Enlightenment would not abandon reason, but rather understand that we are using real reason– embodied reason, reason shaped by our bodies and brains and interactions in the real world, reason incorporation emotion, structured by frames and metaphors anad images and symbols, with conscious though shaped by the vast and invisible realm of neural circuitry not accessible to the conscious.” That quote comes from his 2008 book The Political Mind and –regardless of your political affiliation– it is certainly worth a read. Others appeal to your “embodied reason” all the time and, when they do it right, their conclusions just feel right. This is how, according to Lakoff, Republicans are so good at getting Americans to vote against their interests. Appeal to one’s sense of self-preservation, individuality, and fear of change and you have a voter that is willing to cut their own Medicare funding. I generally agree with Lakoff’s conclusions, but I do not think Republicans are the masters of this art. Internet pirates, the likes of Kim Dotcom, Gottfrid “Anakata” Svartholm, and even Julian Assange, state their cases and appeal directly to our cognitive unconsciouses better than any neocon ever could. more...

This xkcd comic humorously highlights a seeming tension in  WikiLeaks’ so-called “anti-secrecy agenda:” While secrecy facilitates the systemic abuses of institutional power that WikiLeaks opposes, it also protects extra-institutional actors working to disrupt conspiracies (i.e., uneven distributions of information) that benefit the few at the expense of the many. However, as I discuss a recent Cyborgology post and a chapter (co-authored with Nathan Jurgenson) for a forthcoming WikiLeaks reader, Julian Assange’s approach to secrecy is far more sophisticated than just unconditional opposition. For example, he explains in a 2010 TIME interview:

secrecy is important for many things but shouldn’t be used to cover up abuses, which leads us to the question of who decides and who is responsible. It shouldn’t really be that people are thinking about: Should something be secret? I would rather it be thought: Who has a responsibility to keep certain things secret? And, who has a responsibility to bring matters to the public? And those responsibilities fall on different players. And it is our responsibility to bring matters to the public.

Assange is saying that secrecy is not a problem in and of itself; in fact, society generally benefits when individuals and extra-institutional actors are able to maintain some level of secrecy. Secrecy only become a problem when it occurs in institutional contexts, because institutions have an intrinsic tendency to control information in order to benefit insiders. This conspiratorial nature of institutions is what WikiLeaks truly opposes, and enforced transparency (i.e., leaking) is merely a tactic in that struggle. For this reason, WikiLeaks and Anonymous (the extra-institutional Internet community and hacker collective) are allies, despite the superficial tension highlighted in this comic.

Julian Assange, the notorious founder and director of WikiLeaks, is many things to many people: hero, terrorist, figurehead, megalomaniac. What is it about Assange that makes him both so resonant and so divisive in our culture? What, exactly, does Assange stand for? In this post, I explore two possible frameworks for understanding Assange and, more broadly, the WikiLeaks agenda. These frameworks are: cyber-libertarianism and cyber-anarchism.

First, of course, we have to define these two terms. Cyber-libertarianism is a well-established political ideology that has its roots equally in the Internet’s early hacker culture and in American libertarianism. From hacker culture, it inherited a general antagonism to any form of regulation, censorship, or other barrier that might stand in the way of “free” (i.e., unhindered) access of the World Wide Web. From American libertarianism it inherited a general belief that voluntary associations are more effective in promoting freedom than government (the US Libertarian Party‘s motto is “maximum freedom, minimum government”). American libertarianism is distinct from other incarnations of libertarianism in that tends to celebrate the market and private business over co-opts or other modes of collective organization. In this sense, American libertarianism is deeply pro-capitalist. Thus, when we hear the slogan “information wants to be” that is widely associated with cyber-libertarianism, we should not read it as meaning  gratis (i.e., zero price); rather, we should read it as meaning libre (without obstacles or restrictions). This is important because the latter interpretation is compatible with free market economics, unlike the former.

Cyber-anarchism is a far less widely used term. In practice, commentators often fail to distinguish between cyber-anarchism and cyber-libertarianism. However, there are subtle distinctions between the two. Anarchism aims at the abolition of hierarchy. Like libertarians, anarchists have a strong skepticism of government, particularly government’s exclusive claim to use force against other actors. Yet, while libertarians tend to focus on the market as a mechanism for rewarding individual achievement, anarchists tend to see it as means for perpetuating inequality. Thus, cyber-anarchists tend to be as much against private consolidation of Internet infrastructure as they are against government interference. While cyber-libertarians have, historically, viewed the Internet as an unregulated space where good ideas and the most clever entrepreneurs are free to rise to the top, cyber-anarchists see the Internet as a means of working around and, ultimately, tearing down old hierarchies. Thus, what differentiates cyber-anarchist from cyber-libertarians, then, is that cyber-libertarians embrace fluid, meritocratic hierarchies (which are believed to be best served by markets), while anarchists are distrustful of all hierarchies. This would explain while libertarians tend to organize into conventional political parties, while the notion of an anarchist party seems almost oxymoronic. Another way to understand this difference is in how each group defines freedom: Freedom for libertarians is freedom to individually prosper, while freedom for anarchists is freedom from systemic inequalities. more...

Most of us here at Cyborgology have written at least one post about augmented warfare and revolution. I suggested that the panopticon has moved to the clouds, and PJ warns that we may soon see it descend into a fog. In the wake of the Arab Spring, we have all commented on what it means to have an augmented revolution (also here, here, and here). The Department of Defense is well aware of this global trend, and is dumping lots of money into understanding how to maintain what I will call online superiority. Just as nations fight for ground, air, and sea superiority in a given conflict, they must now maintain a presence in online meeting spaces. Surveillance and intelligence efforts have always been a part of warfare, and monitoring and disrupting information flows has always been a tactical advantage. While previous engagements in informational warfare have been about information exchange, what we see now are efforts to gain online superiority in order to directly disrupt physical, financial, or tactical resources.


The Anonymous Twitter Feed Announcing the NATO Breach


On July 21st, 2011, Anonymous—the 4chan-associated hacker collective with a cyber-libertarian bent—announced that they had breached NATO’s secure database and retrieved roughly a gigabyte of restricted data.  To verify their claim, Anonymous posted a “NATO restricted” document to Twitter.  Interestingly, Anonymous has been very cautious in leaking the documents it has obtained, publicly declaring that it would be “irresponsible” to publish most of it.  Much of what has be published is “Redacted, for sanity.” more...

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I’m currently doing field work in Kumasi, Ghana and will be back next week with some really great original content. Until then, I am sharing a piece of media that I have been looking forward to, but currently have absolutely no time to watch. Amy Goodman moderates a discussion between Lacanian Philosopher and pop-culture critic  Slavoj Zizek and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. This is the first interview Assange has given since being put under house arrest without charges filed against him by Sweden or the UK. Zizek considers operations like Wikileaks are the “harbingers for the end of global capitalism as we know it.” Again, I haven’t watched this yet, but I go into it with the following questions in mind: Can we make this kind of conclusion? Or is this a matter of digital dualism mixing with the cautious optimism of the far left? Are we fetishizing information technology to such a degree that we conflate its revolutionary capacity to disrupt technological systems, with its ability to tear apart similar social systems? Technological and social systems can and do follow isomorphic and parallel organizational structures but that does not mean that a technology’s ability to disrupt one, is on par with its ability to disrupt the other.

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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s statement that “Facebook is the most appalling spying machine ever invented” reveals that there is a lack of consensus among the leading social media developers regarding the relationship between transparency and social justice.  Implicitly, Assange is asserting that transparency is good when imposed on governments but bad when imposed on individuals. Moreover, he is, arguably drawing a distinction, here, between cyber-libertarianism (which he rejects as, ironically, facilitating state surveillance and control)  and cyber-anarchism (which uses the same tools to affect grassroots surveillance or “sousveillance” on the state and, thereby, diminishing its capacity to engage in covert, extralegal activities, potentially directed at its own citizens). more...

Jeff Jarvis wrote a critique of having multiple identities on social media (find the post on his blog – though, I found it via While acknowledging that anonymity has enabled WikiLeaks or protestors of repressive regimes, he finds little utility for not being honest on social media about yourself. Jarvis argues against having multiple identities, e.g., one Twitter account for work and another for friends or a real Facebook for one group and a fakebook (a Facebook profile with a false name) for another.

Jarvis argues that the problems associated with presenting yourself in front of multiple groups of people (say, your mother, boss, best friend, recent fling, etc) will fade away under a state of “mutually assured humiliation.” Since we will all have the embarrassment of presenting a self to multiple groups, we all will forgive each other so that others will return the same favor to us. “The best solution”, Jarvis argues, “is to be yourself. If that makes you uneasy, talk to your shrink.” This is reminiscent of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg who stated “having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity,” or current Google CEO Eric Schmidt who said that “if you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

The obvious problem with this line of thinking is that the problems associated with displaying a single self in front of multiple populations is not “mutually” the same for all. Just as WikiLeaks or protestors often use anonymity to counter repressive and/or powerful regimes, we know that anonymity is also used by the most vulnerable and least powerful on the personal level as well. Jarvis misses the important variables of power and inequalities in his analysis.

Having a stigmatized and not always accepted identity can bring much conflict more...

Zygmunt Bauman (pictured above) provides a famous liquidity metaphor that I find infinitely useful for thinking about the Internet. My previous post on Wikileaks and our Liquid Modernity outlins how the Internet and digitality are making information more fluid, nimble and difficult to contain. Using the liquidity metaphor, I argue that WikiLeaks is an example of increasingly liquid and leak-able information.

I further argue that “heavy” structures need to become more porous; that is, allow for some amount of liquidity in order to withstand the torrent of contemporary fluidity. Julian Assange argued that his WikiLeaks project will cause governments to become more secretive, or, using Bauman’s metaphor, those structures become more solid and thus become washed away by seeming out of date to current, more liquid, realities. I believe we saw a scenario just like this play out in Egypt. more...

This post originally appeared on one of our favorite blogs, OWNI, 18 February, 2011.

“Internet Freedom? There’s no app for that!” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s speech on Tuesday concerning Internet freedom resembled an online activism campaign from Steve Jobs. A year after laying the foundation for the “21st Century Statecraft” (the catch phrase invented by spin doctors to define diplomacy connections), Clinton was once again promoting Internet freedom, though this time she chose her words more carefully.

At the beginning of 2010, her speech coincided with the incident between Google and China. This time, Clinton waited patiently for positive results from the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions before launching into her diatribe. With a storytelling air, she started her speech by referring to the temporary Internet black-out initiated by Moubarak:

A few minutes after midnight on January 28, the Internet went dark across Egypt.

She did not waste much time before mentioning Neda, more...