by Keith Johnson
What, me worry?
Alfred E. Newman
It’s a travesty of a mockery of a sham!
The careless abuse of talking and writing has forced our great leaders to step in and stem the rising tide of political discourse.
All you people who have an opinion should be ashamed of yourselves. Did you stop to think that maybe your shared thoughts might be at odds with the agenda our betters have planned for us? I didn’t think so. Well they showed you, didn’t they? The hand that feeds has now decided that you have had too many treats. So now, if you want more, you’re going to have to beg! Bad dog!
But did you ever try to take a garden hose to two dogs mating in the street? Does that stop them? No! They just move on down the road and look for another spot to hook up. And that may be precisely what we are going to have to do.
Forgive me for making light of the serious threat to our first amendment right of freedom of speech but I have been preparing myself for this eventuality for quite some time and, quite frankly, I’m not too worried about it.
Last week the House overwhelmingly passed the “Cyber Security Bill”. What that means to the future of the Internet as we know it has yet to be seen. But surely we are already starting to see signs that the world, as a whole, is tightening the screws on websites they deem as subversive or hateful. Many providers are now starting to filter content and blocking access to various political sites like the one this article is appearing on.
But this should not surprise anyone. Ever since the 15th century, when Guttenberg invented the moveable type printing press, governments have stepped in to censor and restrict the spread of information. The Catholic Church, Europe’s political entity of the day, realized that the printing press was a major threat to their power and influence over the people and required that all published material get their stamp of approval before being disseminated. But the volume and speed at which texts were published proved very taxing and they soon realized that they were fighting a losing battle. And that’s the fate that has befallen this latest group of paranoid control freaks. They have opened “Pandora’s Box”, and once that happens, it’s hard to get the lid back on.
The Internet was originally intended to be used as a worldwide wiretap to pry into the lives and thoughts of the public. But what started out as an intelligence-gathering tool of the Pentagon soon evolved into a populist alternative to the mainstream press. It proved to be a useful and effective mechanism for countering government propaganda as well as serving as a valuable resource for spreading truth, exposing corruption and distributing previously suppressed knowledge.
I don’t suspect that the Internet will ever be completely shut down. Too much commerce depends on it. Businesses rely on the Internet for sales of their goods and services as well as providing a convenient way for their customers to pay bills and make transactions. Certainly the government and the mainstream media rely on the Internet to spread their lies and disinformation.
So where does that lead us? Licensing is already being considered under the guise of national security. Therefore, I expect to see a creeping incremental abolishment of dissent and political commentary as activists and journalists are prohibited from using government regulated infrastructure to disseminate their views and opinions.
And what is to become of the current crop of freedom fighters and truth seekers? Do we disappear quietly into the night? Do we close up shop and concede to defeat? No! We do what we always do when oppressive government intervenes to stifle dissent among its population: we go underground!
For nearly two decades the government has produced millions of “information addicts”. Of course this was their plan all along. As any good drug dealer will tell you, the best way to develop repeat business is to get your customer hooked on free product. Then, once they are hooked, you start charging them. That’s exactly what they intend to do here. Licensing and fines will no doubt generate millions, if not billions, of dollars of revenue. But what I don’t think they have factored into the equation is that many of these “information addicts” will reject the quality of product the government is pushing and will force them into the streets to find the “good stuff”.
All those avatars and usernames will start growing legs and sprouting arms and, as a result, will create a whole new underground culture. Graffiti artists will cover walls with political messages. Banner hangs will start appearing everywhere off freeway overpasses. Coffee houses and bars will take on a whole new life as meeting places for writers and political pundits. Private libraries and bookstores will start popping up everywhere carrying material that cannot be found on the web. Cadres of students will flood the streets with pamphlets and flyers, leaflets and independent newspapers. Activists will start appearing in the backgrounds of “on the scene” news broadcasts hoisting signs and shouting over the voices of reporters. Street pulpits will appear on the corners of major cities. Small theaters will host viewings of documentaries and other films carrying a political statement. Fax machines will start going back into operation to disseminate information. Mobile pirate radio stations will roam down city streets trying to keep one step ahead of the FCC. Short-wave radio will become a popular medium to collect information on world affairs from foreign broadcasts. The possibilities are endless.
We will witness the resurgence of the underground press that flourished in the 50’s and 60’s when gonzo journalists like Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe wrote for underground publications that made the medium popular. But the new movement will have an advantage over those pioneers. All of our dormant computers and printers will come back to life as miniature printing presses pumping out volumes of literature and burning thousands upon thousands of DVD’s and CD’s.
The unintended consequences of restricting access to the Internet could prove to be very counter-productive to the government and the mainstream press. Once an underground movement begins it spreads like wildfire, especially among the young. The street level actions will prove to be an ideal recruiting ground for previously apathetic youths who will be attracted to the rebellious aspects of an underground movement. But, once they are educated, they will grow to embrace the noble ideals that the movement stands for and they will become a force unto themselves.
The best example of how this kind of movement can succeed has it’s roots in post-Stalin Russia and Poland when poets, musicians and writers gathered in town squares and passed along printed Samizdat: censored publications that the government considered subversive and a threat to their national security. These materials were spread from person to person in a covert fashion. Many of these documents were hand written and copied using blotting paper due to the unavailability of typewriters and printing presses that were strictly regulated by the state. They certainly faced greater challenges than we do now. Yet, despite all the forces working against them, they managed to lay a foundation for the grassroots resistance movement of the 80’s when, using FAX machines, information began to spread prolifically and contributed immensely to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
But none of these victories come easy. One notable Russian activist, Andrei Mironov was imprisoned as a thought criminal during this time and was considered “worse than a murderer” by the KGB. His crime? Listening to short-wave radio, reading foreign literature and engaging in conversations with people outside the Soviet Union about life under that totalitarian regime. Another hero of the time was Vladamir Bukovsky who was persecuted for organizing demonstrations to protest the imprisonment of political dissidents and later exposing the psychiatric torture of detainees in Soviet gulags. Bukovsky spent a total of 12 years behind bars for his political activities but emerged as a major political force in the post-Soviet years.
Certainly we too should expect to someday fall victim to this kind of persecution. Our own recent history should be evidence of that. In the UK of the 60’s, police constantly harassed the underground press at every opportunity. But this ended up backfiring on them and made the movement even more relevant and popular. Counter-culture journalist Mick Ferren recalls that the police efforts “focused attention, stiffened resolve, and tended to confirm that what we were doing was considered dangerous to the establishment”. And right here in the U.S., during the 70’s, the FBI set up fake newspapers and publications like The Longhorn Tale at UT Austin to counter and discredit what they considered to be radical networks of leftist journalists and activists. They also conducted surveillance on these groups and sent in provocateurs to disrupt their activities, discredit them and portray them as violent subversives. One such operation occurred in 1970 when the FBI, on orders of the Nixon Administration, staged a faux-riot at Disneyland Park in Anaheim to discredit the anti-Vietnam movement.
The same stuff is going on to this very day; we should be used to it by now. The government has been reading our Emails, logged our web traffic and no doubt has an individual profile of each and every one of us who have dared speak out against them. Perhaps, in some ways, we should be grateful that they have created an environment that forces us to push ourselves away from the keyboards and their prying eyes.
I’m not suggesting that we hold a wake for the Internet. It’s not going away any time soon. And even if it does, there will always be clever “Techies” and “Hackers” finding ways to keep us online. But while we still have the Internet in its present form, we should be downloading and copying as much information as we can. That information will become a commodity. It might also be a good idea to start stocking up on paper and blank discs (while they’re still cheap)…just in case.
So while we all fear the worst, let us take comfort in knowing that we always have alternatives to spread the word and continue our education. We can’t be stopped. We will be seen and we will be heard. We’ll find a way.
So this is my message to “Big Brother”: Do you really want to cut off your nose to spite your face? Are you prepared for the repercussions? Are you equipped to police and monitor all those bodies on the street? Well? Are You? Go ahead…make my day. I dare you! You want my Internet? Come and take it!…I could use the exercise.