Governments Can’t Self-Regulate Surveillance

10/10/2020

Reading Sacha Molitorisz’s Net Privacy: How We Can Be Free in an Age of Surveillance, I have appreciated the background and philosophical backing for protecting privacy. In particular, the relational approach to privacy he describes I think is a brilliant way to expand the scope of what actually constitutes privacy as an individual and societal concern. However, there have been a few points that I do not agree with or wish were explored more; as young as it is, the role blockchain technology has and could play in ensuring net privacy is not even mentioned once. Instead, the chapter I am currently reading speaks of regulation and legislation, talking about the privacy of individuals and society but then falling back on the State or global institutions to uphold it – a tad problematic.

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Loss of Rationality: Kant, Consumerism, and Democracy

06/10/2020

My current read is Net Privacy: How We Can Be Free in an Age of Surveillance, written by Sacha Molitorisz, which is unexpectedly intensely philosophical in its approach. At little over the halfway mark, whilst it seemingly hasn’t answered the question posed by the subtitle, it has still been a fascinating book that I would recommend. Although I do intend on writing a piece on it relating to the commodification of data and privacy, here I want to jump on a bit of a tangent. Molitorisz references Immanuel Kant a number of times, and it is one reference to “rational beings” that I am homing in on.

Because in the modern world, Kant’s rational beings are seemingly dwindling.

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Consent Manufactured? Bill Clinton, Treasury, and Russia

27/09/2020

In his 2002 book, Globalization and Its Discontents, Joseph Stiglitz goes over how he believes Russia’s transition from “communism” to a “market economy” failed after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Despite his mistake in stating that Russia was somehow “Marxist” in nature beforehand, it does explain how, with US assistance, the country continued to freefall to levels below what they were under the Soviet regime. The minute point I want to dissect from this, however, is his faith in then President of the United States, Bill Clinton, to have taken stronger action if he “had been confronted with the arguments”.

I doubt it.

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Trump Is Still the President

08/09/2020

As the largest protest movement continues to take place across the US, there are always those who will pick apart every minute detail to find any single act, any single person, that they can point at and dismiss the whole thing as “violent riots”. From the classic “he was no angel” in reference to George Floyd and other murdered black people to “I supported the protests at first but now they’re all looting and burning down buildings”, the online discourse can get Orwellian quickly. Perhaps the most alarming example is the fact some infamous commentators are calling to elect (yes, elect, not “re-elect”) Trump to “fix it”.

Oh dear.

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Globalisation Conveniently Works When People Lose

07/09/2020

I am reading Globalization and Its Discontents (damn Americanisation’s), the updated version with the advent of Donald Trump, written by Joseph E. Stiglitz. In it he describes how globalisation has seemingly failed the world, producing discontents with the system. In the 2002 edition, it was mostly the developing world that suffered, but more recently developed countries have increasingly opposed globalisation. Stiglitz argued this is due to gross mismanagement, but as he admits later, even well managed globalisation results in “losers” in the system.

I should preface this by saying that the vision Stiglitz has for a proper globalised world is reasonable enough. It’s a case of capitalism still being capitalism (i.e. not great), but done in a way that ensures poor people don’t just die or get violently exploited because why not. He still believes in massive global institutions like the IMF (although he does criticise them harshly) and the World Bank, relies heavily upon the honesty of corporations and States, and obviously does not even consider the concept of worker ownership – to him “socialism/communism” fell with the USSR.

But even if his conception of a properly managed and globalised world were to exist, he acknowledged there were problems:

“In fact, honest academics always pointed out that there would be winners and losers in globalization. When globalization worked well, the standard theory for globalization went, the winners gained enough so that they could compensate the losers and everyone would be better off.” [My emphasis in both cases].

The key word, as Stiglitz himself immediately admits, is could, because history and the current system quite clearly shows that people on the lower end of the wealth spectrum – the losers – are much worse off whilst the rich continue to generate soaring profits. He calls this an “inconvenient truth”, one that apparently the “honest” academics spoke about, but which many (apparently the ones loud enough to be heard) ignored or obfuscated. Milton Friedman springs to mind, although Stiglitz does refer to Chile (Friedman’s happy little South American “free market” laboratory under Pinochet) as a “success”.

I can’t help but think of the old argument that if wealth needs to be redistributed, it wasn’t being distributed properly in the first place. Stiglitz’s self-critique of globalisation, the fact that his ideal system requires there be people who would lose and puts faith in those who win to act out of the kindness of their hearts (because obviously governments don’t do much) is bizarre. You can be as honest as you want about how unbalanced your system is, regardless of its feasibility compared to other systems, but the fact remains that it is unbalanced.

Even if it did work perfectly as intended, the losers are still dependent on people, factors, and decisions outside of their control, which is one of the major talking points of anti-globalisation arguments. In both a political and workplace context, they are at the mercy of a system that is imposed upon them, and considering that system is basically an open invitation to abuse the rules, it’s no wonder discontent has grown.

I am in favour of a globalised world – there is no escaping the reality that we will become more and more connected and intertwined as time goes on. But globalisation in a capitalist framework is rife with corruption and suffering, and even the preferable variants of it leave people behind who have no way to remedy their situation. There is a book by Noam Chomsky called Internationalization or Extinction that I want to get at some point, because given the name it probably describes a much fairer system than that of the average World Bank economist.

I just thought it was worth highlighting this critique of globalisation brought forward by Stiglitz, and pushing it a bit further to suggest that there may be a better framework to implement it than the limited view he appears to have. So far, I would recommend the book Globalization and Its Discontents, even if just to understand the (decent) capitalist perspective on it, and for its condemnations and analysis of how Trump’s policies will worsen, not alleviate, the issues caused by mismanagement.

Liked this? Read The Contradiction of the Zero-Sum Game

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Reality is Conspiracy Without the Flair: QAnon

06/09/2020

Conspiracy theories have pervaded discourse for decades, from the assassination of JFK to the 9/11 terror attacks being an inside job carried out by the Bush administration. Regardless of the facts and implications one can draw from history and events as they happen, new theories and ideas are added to the pile frequently, particularly with the advent of the internet. These ideas – much like the rhetoric of despotic figures like Donald Trump – are alluring because they offer explanations to those blindly searching for answers. While the questions that led to those answers might be genuine, reality often offers less “fantastic” answers that nonetheless have the benefit of truth.

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The Contradiction of the Zero-Sum Game

03/09/2020

There is a contradiction in the way the proponents of capitalism approach the concept of the “zero-sum game”, the notion that wealth created or owned in one place must come at the expense of others. This conversation has taken many different forms, from the power of the British Empire on a global scale to national debates over the merits of immigration and welfare. But one on side of the debate, there appears to be a glaring inconsistency in their logic.

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Why I’d Vote for Biden

An anarchist, voting? Oh no, that’s not allowed, that… that’s the other kind of anarchy! Let alone for Biden! Well, let it be some consolation that I cannot vote in the US election because I have the fortune of being born elsewhere in the world and vote there instead. But I do not view the act of voting in a capitalist electoral system as entirely contradictory to the anarchist belief of abolishing authority, even that of the State itself. Let me explain, because this is a piece for the “left”.

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New Bodycam Footage Reveals George Floyd Was… Still Murdered

09/08/2020

It’s been a couple of months since the murder of George Floyd, a black man in America who died at the hands (or, specifically, the knee) of a police officer and sparked a global protest wave that, whilst lowering, is still active. Recently, bodycam footage of the 8-10 minutes prior to the infamous clip everyone saw months ago was leaked. You better believe people had some strong but entirely deluded opinions on this extra footage.

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Go Read Merchants of Doubt

25/06/2020

Merchants of Doubt, a 2010 book written by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, is a must read. As one of the testimonies on the cover of my copy says, if there is one nonfiction book you read this year, it is the one to go for (obviously try to read more than one, but make Merchants of Doubt a priority). It follows a number of stories that mar the history of scientific progress by telling them from the perspectives of actors we often don’t hear from in the modern “debates”: the scientists themselves.

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