Posted by TCW
The Day We Fight Back is an upcoming protest against mass spying carried by the NSA that was revealed last year by Edward Snowden. On February 11th, thousands of websites will host banners urging people to contact their lawmakers over the issue of privacy protection.
It’s no secret that I’m deeply in favor of this event, as I have already written in this post that
“Privacy of communication and protection of whistleblowers are two of the pillars of democracy, because it’s very difficult to hold governments accountable without them.”
Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, explicitly mentions people’s right to privacy:
“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”
And long before this declaration, in 1791, U.S. states ratified Bill of Rights, which is the collective name for the first ten amendments to the Constitution of the United States. Its purpose was to set limits on government actions with respect to personal liberties, and the Fourth Amendment specifically prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, and requires any warrant to be supported by probable cause.
The Fourth Amendment goes hand in hand with the First Amendment which guarantees the freedoms of speech, the press, and the peaceful assembly.
Dilma Rousseff, the president of Brazil, best explained this connection in her speech at the United Nations General Assembly:
“In the absence of the right to privacy, there can be no true freedom of expression and opinion, and therefore no effective democracy.”
British rapper and vlogger Dan Bull recently made a rap song video appropriately titled “The NSA hate this song” in which he expressed similar concerns:
“PRISM is a prison and the prisoner’s your mind”
“When the NSA watches everything we say, we’ve got to make sure we say what we really need to say”
In other words: obliteration of privacy by government intelligence agencies can lead to self-censorship and stifling of political opposition and unconventional ideas. Watch Dan’s video below:
Some people in power of course want to stifle political opposition that is threatening their current authority. To prevent tyranny it’s therefore crucial that we preserve the ability to communicate freely in private as well as in public; as Steven Pinker puts it in The Blank Slate: “a network of freely communicating citizens can counteract the might of the individuals in government.”
I’m not against the practice of mass surveillance just because it can eventually lead us to Orwellian nightmare. The other reason is that the implementation of my Manifesto for sustainable living depends upon effective democracy and protection of human rights. Without the rights and freedoms that people living in modern democracies currently still enjoy, the establishment of a network of societies (associations) for sustainable living and self-actualization becomes impossible.
Even though I’m not an anarchist (or even a libertarian), I believe that the biggest future social advances will come through voluntary associations, not through the state.
With regard to the power of the state, I’m a proponent of the Goldilocks principle: the state should not be too powerful, and it should not lack the power necessary to perform its functions; its power should be “just right”.
If the state becomes too powerful, it can easily turn into a totalitarian dictatorship, but if it becomes too weak, then it cannot maintain peace and public order. The primary role of government is to defend citizens from outside threats and from each other, to maintain a legal system where disputes can be solved peacefully, and to protect the rights and freedoms of the people.
I see the state as a foundation, that makes higher levels of cooperation between people possible. It provides a playing field, rules of the game, and a referee – then it’s up to people how they team up and how they play. Of course, part of the whole thing is to make sure that the referee doesn’t get corrupt.
If this foundation works properly, then positive social change can occur either through democratic process (democratically utilizing state power to correct market deficiencies), or through people exercising their existing rights and freedoms and establishing voluntary cooperative associations: a new layer of cooperation can sometimes change the existing system even without changing the legal groundwork. Watch this video for an interesting example of this concept:
How to Change Society (short version)
The future of activism
This leads us to the final part of this post. Where does the future of activism lie?
I believe that activists need to realize that they can have profound impact only when they collaborate together. They need to form networks and associations and work together. Of course, they already do collaborate. The Day We Fight Back is an example of how different groups can join forces for a common goal. They already did it in 2012 with protests against SOPA and PIPA. However, such coordinated actions are rare.
The problem is that different activist groups have incompatible visions and ideas, so they don’t really want to work together.
The future of activism lies in bringing various groups together despite their ideological differences. They should learn to collaborate on a case by case basis – work together on goals that they agree upon, despite the fact that they may disagree on all the other issues. Finding common ground and making a few compromises is the only way to achieve the critical mass that is necessary for change.
The other important realization activists have to make is that some issues cannot be solved with a democratic process, because there is simply no consensus in society on how to solve these issues (and possibly never will be). That does not mean that I support violent revolutions or any other non-democratic option that would force the views of the minority upon the majority.
However, there is a solution to this deadlock. It involves the concept of voluntary associations – establishing a new layer of cooperation only between people that want it, and leaving others alone. For example, there may be no consensus for establishing universal health coverage in a particular country. Personally, I think that universal health coverage is a good thing, but the majority of voters in that country might strongly oppose this idea. So, rather than fighting for this cause through political means, why not establishing an alternative system: a network of health insurance co-operatives that could eventually grow big and become de facto universal health care?
It’s just a suggestion. You can choose to take it or not.
Posted in Social change
Tags: activism, Bill of Rights, Dan Bull, democracy, Dilma Rousseff, Edward Snowden, freedom of speech, Goldilocks principle, government, human rights, NSA, privacy, protest, spying, surveillance, The Day We Fight Back, United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, voluntary association, whistleblower