Friday, June 20, 2014

Guest Post: The Mound Of Sound

Yesterday, inspired by a link sent to me by The Mound of Sound, I wrote a post on some of the dire implications of the surveillance state and the preparations being made by The Pentagon to deal with mass civil breakdown.
Today, a guest post by The Mound offers a sharp counterpoint to the pessimism of that post:

I thought I was a pessimist until I began delving into online courses on war studies, globalization, global food security, etc.

As Doyle’s Holmes said, “the game’s afoot.” Stuff that would have been considered alarming a generation ago now occurs daily and almost without notice. Our privacy, that one right to which all others are anchored, is gone. Instead of fighting to protect us, our governments increasingly employ the latest technology to intrude on our daily lives. By stripping away our privacy, governments are able to redefine democratic dissent as subversion, even treason.

There’s talk of revolution seemingly everywhere. It may be the inevitable end result of the world paradigm shift enacted by Reagan, Thatcher and Mulroney. Today the Pentagon is preparing for ‘mass civil breakdown’ and preparing to use military force within the United States against civilians in flagrant violation of that country’s posse comitatus rule. Open the link, read it and see if it doesn’t make your stomach churn.

In yesterday’s Guardian there’s an exploration of ‘open source revolution.’ It’s an idea from former CIA spy, Robert David Steele, and it’s an idea worth considering. It may even be our kids’ last, best hope.

Last month, Steele presented a startling paper at the Libtech conference in New York, sponsored by the Internet Society and Reclaim. Drawing on principles set out in his latest book, The Open-Source Everything Manifesto: Transparency, Truth and Trust, he told the audience that all the major preconditions for revolution – set out in his 1976 graduate thesis – were now present in the United States and Britain.

Steele's book is a must-read, a powerful yet still pragmatic roadmap to a new civilisational paradigm that simultaneously offers a trenchant, unrelenting critique of the prevailing global order. His interdisciplinary 'whole systems' approach dramatically connects up the increasing corruption, inefficiency and unaccountability of the intelligence system and its political and financial masters with escalating inequalities and environmental crises. But he also offers a comprehensive vision of hope that activist networks like Reclaim are implementing today.

"We are at the end of a five-thousand-year-plus historical process during which human society grew in scale while it abandoned the early indigenous wisdom councils and communal decision-making," he writes in The Open Source Everything Manifesto. "Power was centralised in the hands of increasingly specialised 'elites' and 'experts' who not only failed to achieve all they promised but used secrecy and the control of information to deceive the public into allowing them to retain power over community resources that they ultimately looted."

Today's capitalism, he argues, is inherently predatory and destructive:

"Over the course of the last centuries, the commons was fenced, and everything from agriculture to water was commoditised without regard to the true cost in non-renewable resources. Human beings, who had spent centuries evolving away from slavery, were re-commoditised by the Industrial Era."

Open source everything, in this context, offers us the chance to build on what we've learned through industrialisation, to learn from our mistakes, and catalyse the re-opening of the commons, in the process breaking the grip of defunct power structures and enabling the possibility of prosperity for all.

"Sharing, not secrecy, is the means by which we realise such a lofty destiny as well as create infinite wealth. The wealth of networks, the wealth of knowledge, revolutionary wealth - all can create a nonzero win-win Earth that works for one hundred percent of humanity. This is the 'utopia' that Buckminster Fuller foresaw, now within our reach."

The goal, he concludes, is to reject:

"... concentrated illicitly aggregated and largely phantom wealth in favor of community wealth defined by community knowledge, community sharing of information, and community definition of truth derived in transparency and authenticity, the latter being the ultimate arbiter of shared wealth."

This is the stuff of the ‘social contagion’ that so worries the Pentagon. Whether it will be anywhere near as utopian as Steele envisions is far from clear. If so, it certainly won’t be democratic if it’s to be truly benevolent.

It’s obvious that Steele supports Steady State economics and the rejection of neo-classical economics models of the type still taught in our universities. We will shift to steady state principles because it’s what is demanded when the world runs out of stuff – and we are. It is a transition from a perpetual, exponential growth-based system to an allocation-based system, the sort of thing we have resorted to during wartime. The only alternative to that is a fairly-brutal neo-feudalism but the peasantry is too well armed this time around.

I don’t know if I’ll see this in my lifetime but I expect many of you will. History has shown that, while revolutions can be foreseen (as the Pentagon is doing right now), there’s no way to determine when the actual tipping point will occur. These things usually take everyone at least somewhat by surprise which explains, in part, why they often become ugly, brutal and confused.

Let’s hope Steele is right because what he foresees is not revolution as much as a massive reformation that overthrows our political, social and economic models. Bliss.


  1. As always, an insightful post from Mound, Lorne. It's an interesting thesis, isn't it? The antidote to predatory capitalism is community.

    1. In these times, Owen, such thinking qualifies as revolutionary.

  2. So called 'progressive thinkers' don't even bother to wean themselves from the secret corporate proprietary systems that control their communication devices, even though there are free open source systems available.

    Get back to us when you get serious.

  3. Anon, you arrogant little prick, you remind me of the insufferable punk I was in my youth. Back then we had supersonic jets with analog instruments and ring laser gyros for inertial navigation. Every generation since the 60s has one or two technological iterations that it deals with. Just as our parents' generation was notoriously incapable for setting the time on their VCRs, we're beyond challenged by open source systems. We understand the concepts but are nowhere near fluency.

    Remember this when your turn comes and, given the pace of technological advancement, that will probably be sooner than later. Instead of being the smart mouth punk, you'll be the fossil and the kids will be poking at you with a sharp stick. It's all part of life, Anon. Now, piss off.

  4. @ Owen. There's an interesting book by Gar Alperovitz, "What Then Must We Do?: Straight Talk About the Next American Revolution." In it he chronicles the great success workers' co-operatives are having in the States in buying marginal or failing businesses from absentee (rentier) owners and restoring them to profitable stability. What's particularly interesting is how the community will support these initiatives both governmentally and financially. The workers have a direct stake and so they work harder and usually manage the enterprise more effectively than 'head office' management. The community benefits from the employment and general prosperity and so gives back. Capital is reclaimed at the local and individual levels.

    Conventional capital, in today's world, chases fast and large profits. Those goals are not compatible with stable but moderate manufacturing profit. However those stable but moderate manufacturing profits are perfectly suited to those who find their employment in the enterprise and the larger community around them.

    We know how the rentier mentality drove manufacturing offshore. Worker owned production seems to be the antidote.

  5. "Anon, you arrogant little prick, you remind me of the insufferable punk I was in my youth."

    Without arrogant pricks and insufferable punks, beneficial change would happen more slowly.

    "Now, piss off."

    Go fuck yourself.