A Citizen of the Internet – first thoughts

9 December, 2010

“A constitutional amendment was offered to create a new fourth branch of government for American citizens whose ‘primary residences were virtual networks’.” – Bruce Sterling, Distraction

Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.” – John Perry Barlow

“The general concept is simple, there are people that want to send a message that the Internet is a sovereign territory” – Barrett Lyon


I do not trust the government of the country of my birth. I do not feel any loyalty to them, or any other country, whatsoever. At best, I see them as an especially powerful mafia I have to kowtow to and buy services from. The closest thing to patriotism I have ever felt is to the Internet.

So, why can’t I take Internet as my nationality?

Barlow’s Declaration of the the Independence of Cyberspace is now nearly fifteen years old – which coincidentally is about how long I’ve been online. The internet was a very different beastie back then.

In the last couple of days, the fallout from the Wikileaks affair has spread far and wide. Julian Assange is in a British jail on what even skeptical observers note is a rather enthusiastic prosecution of an alleged sexual assault charge. Few doubt the real reason he is there is pressure from the US government. Ranking members of that government have called for his assassination. Wikileaks has been hit by multiple DDoS attacks – and, perhaps inevitably, Anonymous have responded with a wave of DDoS attacks of their own against targets which have supported the pressure on Wikileaks and Assange (from Paypal, Mastercard and Visa to the Swiss bank who froze his assets).

On the same day as Assange was arrested, the US Dept of State sent out a press notice, thus:

The United States is pleased to announce that it will host UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Day event in 2011, from May 1 – May 3 in Washington, D.C. UNESCO is the only UN agency with the mandate to promote freedom of expression and its corollary, freedom of the press.

…New media has empowered citizens around the world to report on their circumstances, express opinions on world events, and exchange information in environments sometimes hostile to such exercises of individuals’ right to freedom of expression. At the same time, we are concerned about the determination of some governments to censor and silence individuals, and to restrict the free flow of information. We mark events such as World Press Freedom Day in the context of our enduring commitment to support and expand press freedom and the free flow of information in this digital age.

I’m not quite sure what is worse – the staggering hypocrisy of this, or that the US think we’ll not notice that, or that they simply don’t care.

My own country’s government – run by a weak coalition government which is acting like they have a landslide mandate – is cutting vital services to the poor and disadvantaged to pay for deficits caused by their banking pals’ having been caught running the largest Ponzi scheme in human history… and their representatives have the gall to blame those poor and disadvantaged for the financial mess. Students are taking to the streets in protest. They are not my rulers, except by virtue of monopoly of violence and general habit.

When we’re at the point where The Economist refers to Anonymous as “a 24-hour Athenian democracy” I think it’s time to at least consider the idea. (Although, as my esteemed colleague David Forbes points out, that also means unruly mobs…)

There’s plenty of precedent for dual-citizenship (such as my being both a citizen of UK and EU), as well as transnational exemptions based on residential status – think diplomatic immunity. (And if ever there was a system that sums up the idea of privilege overriding local law, it’s diplomatic immunity… though as a quick-and-dirty way to get Internet Citizens protected, granting all such citizens diplomatic status under the Vienna Convention would do nicely! After all, every Internet Citizen is potentially a post-state actor unto themselves…)

There’s also precedent in such ideas as the World Citizen aspect of the Bahá’í Faith, as well as libertarian proposals for independent states such as Sealand.

Citizenship implies abiding by, and contributing to, a social contract. Doing Your Bit. I have to tell you I’m far happier doing that for the internet than for any state. It’s rules, customs and rituals make more intuitive sense to me than any state I have ever heard of. And yes, I would cheerfully give up my right to vote in the UK and EU for the rights and responsibilities of Internet Citizenship. (Dear David Cameron – that’s what a Big Society really fucking means.)

(Of course there’s intrinsic problems with being Citizen Internet. As I was writing this, I had an ISP issue that required multiple reboots of router & 2 hours on tech support. The physical infrastructure of the internet is indeed reliant on meatspace hardware located in post-Westphalian states. But then again, a huge amount of the wealth and culture of those states is now internet-based… some form of detente is surely negotiable. And perhaps the Wikileaks fallout is the first ugly step towards such a detente.)

(I’m also very aware that saying The Internet is a gross oversimplification of a whole bunch of different, sometimes competing, cultures. A key issue would be finding some common ground among all users – from attitudes to censorship to trolling to vandalism. But having a set of ground rules all citizens can accord to is surely the first necessary step for a citizenship, yes?)

The single biggest issue with declaring the internet as a sovereign territory is that nation-states have nothing to gain, and much to lose, from this. But then again, that doesn’t make it unthinkable – those nations once also had a lot to lose by making slavery illegal. (I can imagine quite similar arguments from them, too – “We own that! You can’t take our property!”) The quote from Bruce Sterling’s political SF novel Distraction comes from near the end of the book, after a post-financial crash US has to negotiate with a new power within it’s borders, nomadic tribes who conduct most of their social admin and political apparatus online (think Whuffie on steroids). I can easily imagine circumstances where the US would have to come to an understanding with non-state (or rather, post-state) actors. Another quote from Distraction goes, “Politics is the art of reconciling aspirations”.

OK – so let’s assume through some miracle the Powers That Be allow Internet to be recognised as a nationality. There’s a rotating crowd of randomly selected Anons sitting at the UN or something. What does that actually do?

One advantage I can see is that all those Blue Laws which use the phrase “based on the prevailing standards of the community” go away. My community is the Internet. Our standard for sexual freedom is /b/. (Obvious exception – and perhaps a necessary precondition – is zero-tolerance of actual child pornography and images of actual rape.) I also imagine that property and privacy laws would develop rather differently… the most important part for me is that those who wish not to play the same games as their home state have somewhere to call home. It would also be somewhere (for a rather virtual definition of ‘somewhere’, of course) where organisation to survive failed states and other antiquated tribes can be accomplished.

No doubt existing state actors would cause all kinds of problems for the Internet Citizen – governments tend to do that. But then again, they do that between each other – as the Wikileaks cables clearly show.

And for the states which claim to be democracies, it’ll show one possible result of truly sharing power among the people.


NB – This isn’t a working proposal. It’s not even really a manifesto, yet. It’s perhaps just a naive dream… but it’s one that obsesses me increasingly. If anyone has useful ideas to contribute to this, sing out!

Putting the mockers on

4 April, 2009

I have to smile when The Economist agrees with me… in an opinion piece about the awful UN resolution regarding ‘defamation of religion’, they say:

 The resolution says “defamation of religions” is a “serious affront to human dignity” which can “restrict the freedom” of those who are defamed, and may also lead to the incitement of violence. But there is an insidious blurring of categories here, which becomes plain when you compare this resolution with the more rigorous language of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948 in a spirit of revulsion over the evils of fascism. This asserts the right of human beings in ways that are now entrenched in the theory and (most of the time) the practice of liberal democracy. It upholds the right of people to live in freedom from persecution and arbitrary arrest; to hold any faith or none; to change religion; and to enjoy freedom of expression, which by any fair definition includes freedom to agree or disagree with the tenets of any religion.

In other words, it protects individuals—not religions, or any other set of beliefs. And this is a vital distinction. For it is not possible systematically to protect religions or their followers from offence without infringing the right of individuals.

So Say We All

2 September, 2008

I don’t post much on US party politics – I don’t trust any of the fuckers – but this says everything so perfectly…

The Dalai Lama, heresy and politics

26 August, 2008

I like a good heresy, me.

It’s always seemed to me that heresies (that aren’t extinguished) usually end up as the new orthodoxies – but before they do, they’re interesting to watch and often instructive… at least, of the current orthodoxy.

So it was with some interest I read this bit in (of all places) The New Statesman, on the Dorje Shugden heresy in Tibetan Buddhism. I’m far from an expert on this subject (though I use some tools and concepts from Bön Shamanism which drifted into Tibetan practice long ago), but the basics go like this:

Dorje Shugden is a ‘protector-deity’ who, when called upon, looks after those seeking enlightenment. His worship is banned by the current (14th) Dalai Lama, for reasons which vary depending on who you talk to. His stance seems to be that Dorje Shugden is a) an evil spirit, b) not a real Buddha, c) the preferred version of Buddha-worship favoured by the Han Chinese authorities or d) all of the above.

Worshippers of the Dorje insist that this is a political move on the DL’s part, an attempt to unite all forms of Tibetan Buddhism under his leadership – and the tail-end of a political struggle some 400 years old, involving the previous incarnation of the Dorje who was a rival of the 5th DL…

You got to love it when the archetypal ‘peace-and-love’ belief system falls into this kind of schizm. And especially when there’s a fair bit of evidence that that nice old man the 14th Dalai Lama has caused purges of thousand of heretical worshippers from temples both in Tibet and elsewhere using the O***pics as a distraction…

I don’t, as they say, have a dog in this race. But my inner cynic leads me to seriously consider the claims of the Dorje Shugden followers – and the magician part (that is, most of me) leads me to wonder the kinds of results one might get from working a system which simultaneously claims no god-figure but has thousands of gods, goddesses and demons in the pantheon… and which are which depends entirely on context and minor differences of teaching.

Well, not wonder so much as smile slyly at the similarity to the syncretism of, say, Xtian and Yoruba traditions that resulted in the effective system usually called Voodoo.

That whole Guttershaman thing on ‘authenticity’ and tradition? Coming real soon.

American Fascism and the Divine Feminine

19 August, 2008

Two pieces of note:

Gary Lachman appears to have suddenly discovered Dominionist Xtianity… actually, it’s a good and thoughtful piece, not only about the influence of mysticism on politics but also how he tries to synthesize past and future in modern times. Worth sticking through the comments thread for GL and Daniel Pinchbeck arguing about the importance/value of the 2012 meme and much else.

Speaking of dualistic propositions… this piece by Elizabeth Debold is on the false oppositional dualism of male and female, and considers how to address this in creating a modern female sense of divinity. Food for thought – especially in her consideration how steeped in Victorian ideas of the gender divide Carl Jung was, and how this colours his archetypal models.

What would you do with six trillion dollars?

26 May, 2008

Charlie Stross asks the best question I’ve seen in a long while:

The direct cost to the US government of the war and occupation of Iraq — counting only funds appropriated by Congress — so far runs to roughly $523Bn.

However, that’s the direct cost — money directly spent on the project. There are indirect costs, too: Joseph Stiglitz estimates the true cost of the war to be $3Tn to the United States, and $3Tn to the rest of the global economy. These are indirect costs, and factor in the long-term additional expenses that the war has accrued — everything from caring for brain-damaged soldiers for the next 50 years through to loss of economic productivity attributable to instabilities in the supply of oil from Iraq.

We can tap-dance around the indirect costs, but the direct costs (that headline figure of $523Bn) are inarguable.

So. What fun boondoggles could we have bought with either $523Bn (at the low end) or $6Tn (at the high end)?

Charlie does the math and works out that the money pissed away on The War For Oil could have paid for over 500 colonists to set up on Mars, or enough nuclear power stations to provide a quarter of the worlds electricity needs. Then asks for other suggestions.

Well… what would you do

EDIT 30 May: It’s notable just how quickly the thread replies were jumped on by wingnut neocon apologists trying to say that when Iraq 2 is ‘a success’ there’ll be loads of profit and benefit. Yeah, sure, if you’re a major shareholder in Halliburton or Blackwater…

Past rants – On taking the veil

26 May, 2008

This is me wading in on the controversy about Muslem women wearing the hijab. From 8 October 2006.

On taking the veil

I’ve been mulling over this since Jack Straw’s recent pronouncement on the subject of veiled Moslem women There have been some good comments on the subject already – my good mate Cavalorn puts Straw’s words into perspective quite nicely.

Firstly – Straw is a complete wanker. Let’s get that out of the way and move on.

Secondly – the only practical reason to ask such women not to veil their mouths is if one is deaf and cannot understand them without lip-reading.

Third – if removing barriers to communication based on facial expression is so important, why doesn’t Straw ask for sunglasses, Botox and beards to be dispensed with also?


Well, the short version is, “your rights end at my nose”. But as I’ve been thinking about this, my view gets a little… ranty.

Bear in mind this is just my opinion…
…I find overt displays of Christian symbols not only offensive, but nauseating. I feel that xtianity is a faith comprised of roughly equal parts hypocrisy, arrogance, blind acceptance of outdated dogma and whining passive-aggression. Speaking as someone who has never taken the easy path to spiritual belief – constantly seeking and asking questions of the Universe, altering my beliefs on the basis of life experience and trying to never assume that I have arrived at The Truth – xtianity is nothing but a form of moral and spiritual laziness, of unquestioning acceptance of contradictory and repressive ‘truth’… and it sickens me to the core. I truly think the whole belief system is dangerous and demeaning both to those who espouse it and especially those who disagree with it on any level.

And I can’t escape from these symbols. The hideous concrete cathedral down the road peals its bells whenever it wants. Xtianfuckwits wave their faith like a greasy flag on every online forum I belong to, from PDA users to Lost watchers.
I would *love* to pronounce that these wanton displays are offensive to me, or as Straw put it, “make me uncomfortable”. It would give me endless pleasure to rip crucifixes from their throats, graffiti their posters, hack their websites, render unwatchable their cable networks…
…but I don’t. Because that would be intrusive, unnecessarily aggressive and grossly wrong. It would be an act of intolerance, based purely on my emotional reaction to something I do not agree with. There are many people for whom xtianity is a worthwhile and nourishing belief – and some of them are friends of mine.

I find any belief system where you can’t question the dogma, choose to leave, or are severely punished for breach of clothing or other regulations, distasteful. But I am very aware that many find my beliefs equally odious.

Thus it is with women of Islam choosing to display their tokens of faith. You may not like it, you may even be offended by it – but you have no bloody right to order them to remove it.

I know some will say that “the veil is a symbol of women’s status as second-class members of Islam, of their spiritual bondage to a repressive patriarchal system” – and I agree they have a point. I am no fan of the extremists of that faith either. Having spent some years studying Sufi mysticism, I know that there are many paths to Islam (which means, let us not forget, ‘submission’) which do not repress women. Mohammed himself said, “woman is the twin-half of man” – not the lesser partner, but equal.

If they have chosen to take that belief – be that belief xtian, muslem or whatever – to that level, it’s their choice. It would be crass to force them out of their belief on the basis of personal distaste – and anyway, it doesn’t work. People inside a repressive belief system have to find their own way out. You can’t “rescue” them until they are ready. And you certainly can’t assume a lack of consent without very good evidence.

It’s interesting to compare this to BDSM – where the submissive chooses their lifestyle, defines their relationship with the one they submit to and expects to be treated within certain defined parameters which they accept and consent to. The key word here is ‘consent’. A lot of people find such dom/sub relationships highly offensive – many of them are xtians. But to me, a nun is exactly the same relationship, without the fun bit. If a woman consents to wearing a veil, it is her choice – and I am unsure that feminists would be on strong moral ground to argue otherwise. If the woman does not consent willingly – does so out of fear of reprisal, being outcast or even physically harmed – that is another matter entirely. I would hope that there would be ways for such to be able to leave that state… I know that it is hard to deny the ties of religion and family that bind them. But exactly the same is true of those bound to xtianity, or scientology or any other restrictive belief.

The only sensible path I can see is tolerance and honest communication. And if some of that communication has to take place through a veil – whether it be of cloth or of hardened mental attitudes – then so be it. It’s better than just resorting to hatred and war.