Ferguson and the death of the American idea



At the heart of the American idea is that belief that self-government is possible. Self-government is one in which there is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people can flourish. The laws are made democratically, by the people, and most importantly the people obey the laws they have made as they serve the common good not the good of a group or an individual. In essence, this is the idea of self-government. We obey the laws we have made because they apply to everyone equally. This idea based on a belief is fading. Obedience to the laws is no longer the dominant civil religion within America. The belief that underpins the American idea is dying and we can see this in what Ferguson has revealed about America.

To distrust the government is to distrust ourselves

The seductive desire to disobey the law has been growing over generations. The distrust of the government growing since 1968 has started to become an outright hatred for the government.  Could a government dedicated to the proposition of self-government be possible?  In 1863, Lincoln explained that America was fighting a bloody and vicious civil war to answer this question in the affirmative. He fought the war to save the Union, a Union that was based on the Constitution. Without the Constitution, a set of laws made by the people and obey by them, self government was not possible. Yet, the government that no longer serves the common good, but serves a group, cannot be considered one that allows for self-government.

Each generation must answer the call to renew America

Lincoln understood that the civil war did not settle the matter. He knew before the war that America’s political institutions had to be renewed and strengthened by each generation. What would destroy America would never be a foreign emperor leading a conquering army. Instead, he warned in his Lyceum address (1838) America would be destroyed from within its borders. He feared lawlessness and a disregard for the laws by American citizens would be the cause of America’s defeat. What began as lawless in spirit would become the lawless in deed. For those who were lawless in spirit, the government would represent their greatest constraint to their “freedom”. They would destroy the government to be “free”.

“the lawless in spirit are encouraged to become lawless in practice; and having been used to no restraint but dread of punishment, they become absolutely unrestrained. Having ever regarded government as their deadliest bane, they make a jubilee of the suspension of its operations, and pray for nothing so much as its total annihilation”

We can see those prophetic words coming to life in Ferguson. The police used arbitrary power to enforce the law. Then the public encouraged to be lawless in spirit from the lack of justice within their community, attacked the symbols of the law. In turn, outsiders travelled to Ferguson to fan the flames of violence, disorder, and destruction. These strangers were not interested in justice, or the common good, they were interested in destruction, the lawlessness in deed. Yet, that lawlessness in spirit is not limited to the street, it occurs in the corporate suite and city hall. In those places, the American idea becomes something to be used to further the corporate or political interest. What Ferguson revealed is that America is in danger of becoming a country that is for one group, by one group, and of one group. When that occurs, then the common good has disappeared.

Without a common or shared vision of justice, we are but a gang of robbers

For America to survive its people have to remain attached to the government as the common expression of the law, and in turn, justice. The people have to be faithful to the idea that it was a government of the people, by the people and for the people. Yet, when the people lose faith in the government, they lose faith in themselves. If Americas did not reaffirm their faith in the American idea, that self-government is possible, then ruin was certain.

“I know the American People are much attached to their Government;–I know they would suffer much for its sake;–I know they would endure evils long and patiently, before they would ever think of exchanging it for another. Yet, notwithstanding all this, if the laws be continually despised and disregarded, if their rights to be secure in their persons and property are held by no better tenure than the caprice of a mob, the alienation of their affections from the Government is the natural consequence; and to that, sooner or later, it must come.” [1]

Is America no longer a country that can show reverence for the law either in the street or in the city hall? If we cannot sustain the democratic experiment, who will? Citizens seek their own good and pay no heed to the common good. The logic is “As long as I am ok, it doesn’t matter what happens to you. You had your chance and made the wrong choice.” Such a view expresses the corrupted idea of what self-government now means in America.

Our individual lawlessness devours the common good

We are not talking about a political debate over the size of the government. We are not talking about whether government spending should be reformed. We are not talking about how regulations stifle capitalistic freedom. We are talking about a dislike, distrust, and even an outright hatred of the government. Let us not confuse this with an esoteric debate that seeks to parse the nuances of a government as an agent separate from the people. The government at all levels has becomes a legitimate target of hatred and destruction. The hatred has as its target an idea. The idea is that the individual has to accept that their self-government is bound up with obedience to the laws.

Without obedience to the laws, self-government is not possible. .

Self-government is not a right, it is a not a certainty, it is not permanent. It is a proposition that must be answered every day by each citizen. If Americans are to live together as one people, they have to understand that it is as one people, united and expressed in the common good. The government express our common belief, our common good that we can live together under the law. Instead, it has become the idea that we can only live by own rules and the government is a tyranny.  We can only be “free” if we are rid of it. What is forgotten in that belief is that self-government was our last best hope to avoid a government of arbitrary violence.

Ferguson has shown us what it means when the government no longer serves communities with equal justice. The American experiment begins to fade for these communities because the law is something imposed on them. When the government no longer serves all communities equally, does America have justice? Even without the death of Michael Brown, we can see a similar injustice in Chicago where it is alleged that the Police Department, under political pressure to improve the murder statistics, reclassified homicides as non criminal deaths.[2] The reclassified murders are nearly all black men and women. In Chicago, the communities with the highest murder rates are the black communities. When the police reclassify the murders, the government stops working for these people as they are excluded from the common good that the government is for the people. It does not work for their community. They are left with lawlessness. The  other Chicagoans enjoy the “common” good.

The lawlessness has grown over the past two generations.

America’s disbelief in the principle of self-government has not occurred overnight, but over generations. Over generations, the people have lost their understanding of what is good for the country. As citizens have lost that understanding, the country has suffered. The illness does have a cure. It is to reawaken our belief in the common good and the responsibility to hold ourselves to account for we have done for the common good. What Ferguson has done is show us that the common good is tenuous. The black community live with injustice and violence unknown to the rest of America.

Can America still claim to know its common good?

The law is founded on a belief in the common good, something larger than the individual and something more than a cynical transaction between the citizen and the state. The only way we can reignite the hunger for self-government is if we educate our young to be citizens, to obey the law because it is good and it serves the common good. In turn, we have to ensure that the law serves the common good that no one person, no institution, is above the law. Either we return to the idea of self-government that is based on an idea of the common good or we prepare ourselves for its alternatives:  anarchy or tyranny. In Ferguson, we have seen what happens when the common good is neglected and the law appears as an oppressor rather than as something that reflects the community.

[1] http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/lyceum.htm

[2] http://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/May-2014/Chicago-crime-rates/


Posted in Government, justice, statesmanship | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Beyond Contempt: Does Money Buy Justice?

English: First issue of News of the World, Oct...

English: First issue of News of the World, October 1, 1843 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Peter Jukes has written an important book. The book is important because of what it reveals about UK politics, media, and justice. The case connects these areas. Too often people hear “important book” and immediately think that it is boring. This book is exciting, well written and scary. It is important because of what it reveals about the UK justice system. In the book Mr. Jukes quotes Justice Saunders at the start of the trial that British justice is on trial. While many may not accept the verdicts; many will understand after reading the book that the prosecution was lucky to get the few convictions it did.

Three books within one

There are three books in this book and each is worthy of a sequel. They cover the trial, journalism, the corporate culture. The first book is about the trial that Mr. Jukes live tweeted. The book is based on the tweets he sent while he attended the trial. In itself, this makes the book an interesting read. Although he is quick to admit, there is nothing new in this approach. What is new is the way that he combined the live tweeting, with the fund raising (crowd sourced) and the way the work was collected and maintained by Gabrielle Laine Peters, J Claire Pollard and Jon Lippitt. The effort to create the book suggests a possible future for journalism and open justice. The process to get to the book is worthy a book in itself if only as an instruction manual or a how to guide. As Mr. Jukes notes, there are some parallels to other open source investigation sites like Bellingcat.

Money may not buy justice, but it helps you stay out of jail.

The book covers the trial well and despite being present for nearly every day of the trial, it does not bog down into burdensome detail. Mr Jukes keeps the narrative flowing with the specific set pieces that mark the high and low points for the prosecution and the defence. As Justice Saunders pointed out British Justice was on trial. At one level, this is always true. Any trial puts British justice on display, but this trial was different. The power ranged against the state was awesome. In this book, we can see where justice is served and how the trial unfolds. Mr. Jukes is a talented writer with an eye and ear for personality and performance. His writing skills shine through as he captures set pieces as well as emotions. He describes well a fundamental problem of UK justice. In this case, the defence outgunned the prosecution. In a democracy, this is worrying as an individual (or a corporation) could mount a defence against the state, the will of the people, and render it incapable of pursuing justice. However, people have always been of the view that the average individual and even the well off individual could not muster this level of resources. However, the justice system is not well prepared to deal with corporations. As Mr. Jukes writes, there were 6 QCs working against the prosecution’s one QC. The imbalance of resources had a direct outcome on the trial. The imbalance of power has parallels in the OJ Simpson case in the United States where his legal “dream team” took apart the prosecution’s case point by point.[1]  However, the issue is not money or “buying” justice.

Can corporations be brought to justice?

The trial was fair within the constraints set by democracy. It was a display of corporate power to protect its own. The difference for the corporation and the Crown is that the Crown can do this indefinitely, so long as the public interest remains, while corporations will eventually run out of money. With that knowledge, justice is often served as most settle rather than continue the cost.  This trial shows the weakness and strength of UK justice in particular circumstances. If you have enough connections and enough resources you can argue the state to standstill, which is what News Corp did on behalf of its officers. The issue is something beyond the court’s control and reflects the UK political culture and the way democracy expects or understands justice. The Courts have no say over the resources a corporation can bring to the table. Can corporations be brought to justice?

Is a tabloid newspaper an extension of the entertainment industry?

The second book is about journalism. In this Mr. Jukes makes interesting points about journalism’s culture and business. Journalism, especially investigative journalism, and investigative journalism in a tabloid, is a rough business. There is no way to hide that fact. The competition for stories and sources is fierce. The journalists were not secretive simply because they were doing something illegal, they were secretive because rival papers, or rival journalists, even journalists from their own paper would steal their story. The problem, though, is the web and social media are changing journalism. The web opens up information faster and more effectively than the phone hacking can provide. The idea of celebrity is also different as the web creates different sources for promotion and publicity which would have made the News of the World vulnerable. In the trial, we see some of the ways in which phone hacking corrupted journalism and undermined the journalists, especially investigative journalists’ best instincts.

The book also reveals the way tabloid newspapers has become an extension of the entertainment industry. The symbiotic relationship is successful even if it is dysfunctional, as the fall of Max Clifford indicates. Curiously, Rebecca Brooks was sent early in her career to negotiate with Max Clifford and later negotiated a secret deal to avoid unwanted publicity through litigation. How entertainment and celebrity fuelled the NoTW needs to be understood to put the competition and the phone hacking into context. The phone hacking started for celebrity stories and began to drift into other areas such as politicians and the Royals which led to the downfall. The relationship of entertainment and journalism within this murky world is worth a separate book.

Corporate culture reflected how they conducted their business

The third book is about the corporate culture. In this book there are insights we can draw from the relationships Mr. Jukes describes. Here I found his skills as a dramatist gave the book something beyond court reporting. He did not try to make these insights like a soap opera. Instead, he showed how the company’s culture was like a soap opera. The corporate culture of News of the World and News International was toxic. The competition within the newsroom and the boardroom did not make this a nice or happy place to work. One can see this in the way that Mr. Coulson had to say, despite the evidence being presented, “I am not a bully”. You know you have a problem when you have to reassure people you are honest, friendly or not a bully. Though never present, Rupert Murdoch haunted the case. As News International is a family firm one has to consider the corporate culture as an extension of the family culture. In this view, Rupert Murdoch sits like an aged King looking at a crumbling, yet still effective, empire.

Rebekah Brooks is that skilled, which is why she was acquitted

As a back story to the trial, we can see Mr. Murdoch like King Lear pining after his Cordelia (Rebekah Brooks). After the trial and related revelations, Mrs Brooks is too toxic to return to News Corp and the other Murdochs would not allow her to interlope. They and others underestimated Rebekah Brooks’ ability to find her way into the inner circle because they do not possess her uncanny ability to find power and seduce it. Access is what works at the corporate level and Mrs Brooks’ talent was to understand power so as to obtain access. Her skills remind me of President Lyndon Johnson who also has an uncanny ability to find power, pursue, and ingratiate himself with it to bend it to his will. Unlike Johnson who often did with a scowl, Rebekah Brooks seems to do with a smile. Their methods may have been as different as their goals, but both understand power. This is why many people underestimate Mrs Brooks. They believe that she is either directed or protected by someone, like Mr. Murdoch, or that she only succeeds because of her female charms. Neither holds true, but for many it is hard to accept. Her success in Murdoch’s kingdom was due to her skills. Although Mr. Murdoch is only a shadow over the trial, we can see why Mrs Brooks was considered so valuable in her ability to survive the cross examination from Mr. Edis and to emerge unscathed from the trial. I think that Mr. Murdoch understood her value and why she was his priority in the case. In many ways, her downfall is worse than the alleged betrayal by his wife. He can get another wife; he cannot create another heir to his empire.

A book that needs to be read in context to appreciate its value

Despite my praise, I have to say that this is not a perfect book. It is not a definitive guide. As it mainly covers the trial, it needs to be read with two other books Hack Attack by Nick Davies and Dial M for Murdoch by Tom Watson and Martin Hickman. Beyond Contempt does suffer slightly from the speed at which it was written and put together. There are places where the narrative is not smooth and the logic seems to have gaps. However, these are only minor distractions and the overall tone, pace, and skill of the writing is excellent. A second edition that expands on the context would provide more details for some examples that are only mentioned rather than explored and fill the minor gaps.

On the whole, I recommend this book to those who followed the Leveson Inquiry or who follow the ongoing saga of Murdoch News Corp. The book will also be of interest and use to general readers on media, journalism, and UK justice.

[1] News Corp paid the defendants legal expenses.

Posted in censorship, corruption, good writing, Government, justice, privacy, transparency | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Israel’s strategy in Gaza; creating liberal democratic tendencies.

English: Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin,...

English: Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, U.S. president Bill Clinton, and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat. Česky: Izraelský premiér Jicchak Rabin, americký prezident Bill Clinton a předseda Organizace pro osvobození Palestiny (OOP) Jásir Arafat. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many observers argue that Israel lacks a strategy in Gaza. If it has a strategy, it is bankrupt because any success does not stop the attacks. A related view argues Israel’s tactical advantage cannot be turned into strategic victory. By contrast, critics argue that Israel’s strategy is genocide, ethnic cleansing, or both. They make this argument either simplistically or with a complex nuance. The simple view is that Israel settlements to push out Palestinians. In the nuanced view, Israel foments state of crisis to destroy Palestinian society.

I believe both are wrong. We need an analytical device to understand Israel’s strategy. Without it, the debate and the conflict remain sterile. The analytical device is Liberalism. Liberalism reveals that Israel’s strategy in Gaza is familiar to the Western approach to similar issues. Israel’s strategy is similar to England’s strategy in Ireland, Scotland and Wales[1]. It is similar to the United States of America’s strategy in North America.[2] Liberalism explains why Western protestors recoil from Israel’s activity in Gaza. They have forgotten what was required to create their peace, stability, and prosperity.[3] The non-Western states resent Liberalism and resist it because it threatens their identity. They see it antithetical to what they want to achieve.

Israel is trying through violence and political engagement to encourage the Palestinian Government (PG) to become a moderate. If the PG becomes moderate, they become an acceptable political partner. They demonstrate that liberalism is the mechanism for change when they ask the classic liberal questions. Will you recognize our right to exist? Will you renounce violence? These questions are at the heart of liberalism. As Frances Fukuyama’s book End of History[4] argued they are the questions that when answered in the affirmative demonstrate the end of history. However, to the extent that Hamas answers no to these questions, they remain firmly within the Concept of the Political. Carl Schmitt’s critique of this liberalism in Concept of the Political explains why the conflict continues.

Fukuyama or Schmitt: The choice that animates Gaza’s future

Israel’s strategy is immediately problematic for the Palestinians and any Palestinian government (PG). The Palestinians will see this as an attempt to dilute or destroy their identity. Their identity is bound up with being immoderate, and thus unacceptable, actor. In the Israeli strategy, they face an existential threat. Do they want to be Western and accept liberalism? The other path is to remain immoderate and reject liberalism.[5] Yet, they cannot create a state without assimilating the liberal tendencies of the state system. If they accept liberal tendencies (renounce violence and recognize Israel) what is their identity.[6] If they do not change, then the fighting has to continue. All truces are simply a time to reload and resupply. The fighting will continue until one of two outcomes occurs. The first is that Palestinians reject Hamas with ballots. The second is that Hamas bankrupts itself with the bodies of Palestinians.[7] How long can the Palestinians accept a government that will fight to the last Palestinian for a goal that they could achieve without the violence and sacrifice?

Despite this extremism, the PG is slowly becoming relatively moderate. For nearly 40 years, the Palestinians had only one leader or face–Yasser Arafat. When he died, Hamas was elected to lead the Palestinians. Although they were not less moderate than Arafat, they had a crucial advantage. They were democratically elected. The election gave them some legitimacy. However, with legitimacy comes responsibility. Hamas predictably used this irresponsibly. They continued their immoderate illiberal path to destroy Israel through violence. They rejected the moderate approach to assimilate with liberalism. Hamas built tunnels and trained fighters. They did not build hospitals and train teachers. They sought war. The violence and dead Palestinians sustains Hamas’s legitimacy as a radical or illiberal group. To build hospitals and train teachers would require them to accept liberalism and display liberal tendencies. They could not do that. However, a PG after Hamas may find that they can. They may seek a moderate path if only because it allows them to live longer and to retain their legitimacy longer.

The more moderate the PG becomes, the more a two state strategy becomes viable. However, elements within Israel do not want that two state outcome. They will create situations that reduce the PG’s ability to become moderate[8] entity. Is Israel willing to accept a moderate PG? The question cannot be ignored nor can an answer be assumed. The more Israel resists it by equating moderate liberal and immoderate illiberal Palestinians, they encourage the problem they wants to avoid. No, this does not mean that Israel has encouraged Hamas or brought the attacks on itself. Instead, it is to argue that the Israeli attacks and strategy has to be focused on a liberal democratic entity, a moderate entity. If they are not pursuing the goal of liberal democratic tendencies, then we have to consider the alternatives. Is Israel’s goal to remove Palestinians or simply to absorb them into Israel? Neither is a viable strategy. If Israel rejects a PG with liberal democratic tendencies, then it will be as illiberal as those it opposes.

The liberal democratic trajectory within Islamic states (and Israel).

At the same time, Islamic states demonstrate liberal tendencies in their intent or trajectory. For this reason, illiberals want that to stop them and any rapprochement with Israel.[9] The liberal tendencies of the relatively moderate Islamic states suggest why they do not support Hamas as they might have previously. Even though they are marginally less illiberal the extremists, they are now vulnerable to their own extremists. Even a state like Saudi Arabia (or North Korea) has liberal democratic tendencies. It wants to be recognized as a legitimate state within the state system to that it has to show liberal tendencies. In this way, Israel and the PG share a similar trajectory.[10]

Israel has faced the same questions of identity and assimilation with liberalism. They have answered them; to the extent, an answer is possible with an Israeli state. They have assimilated themselves into the liberal state system, even as they retained the faith of their fathers. However, they understand that their assimilation presents an existential challenge to their identity.[11] They may delay that challenge for a long time but they cannot avoid it.

Israel was on a long journey to statehood. It took them 2000 years to get to a state and they have had it less than 70 years. If Israel’s strategy is to succeed, they have to find a way to foster liberal tendencies in the Palestinians. So far, Israel has worked hard to suppress the illiberal tendencies. Can they demonstrate the same skill, ingenuity, perseverance to generate liberal tendencies?

If this is not Israel’s strategy, what is it?

[1] The same process, albeit on a longer time scale, can be seen in the way that England assimilated others into its control. One could say that the UK I flirting with its own “two state solution” with Scotland. The longer historical process can be seen in the reasons why Wales has so many castles and why Berwick upon Tweed, which was one of the wealthiest towns in the world in 1295, is now a relatively sleepy town. One could call Berwick’s fate self-defence, as Scotland had made an alliance with France, which was a strategic threat to England, but that misses the deeper historical process. The same historical process that animated England’s relationship with Scotland explained the process by which the Empire was transformed into a commonwealth. The evolution of that approach can be seen in the issues around the torture files from Kenya and the way that the Scotland’s proposed independence is to be settled by ballots rather than bullets. America’s assimilation strategy through liberalism has been no less robust in its own way. These are not wars of imperialism so much as wars to extend the liberal mandate and assimilate its opponents into the system or destroy them. The rise of the state system and the way it assimilates those who aspire to statehood into it reflects that historical process.

[2] The strategy is the process by which liberalism assimilates the “other”, in the Schmittian sense. Carl Schmitt, the Nazi era legal scholar and philosopher proposed the idea of the concept of the political that said the basic political issue was to distinguish friend from enemy. Schmitt argued that liberalism could not overcome the tension between the two and that its attempt to do so was undesirable.

I borrowed the idea of assimilation from sociologists in the United States who sought to explain the way immigrants are encouraged to join a society. Consider the article by Peter Skerry Do we really want immigrants to assimilate? http://www.brookings.edu/research/articles/2000/03/immigration-skerry (accessed 9 August 2014)

“More than just realism, Park affords us a sense of the tragic dimensions of immigration. William James, one of Park’s teachers, once wrote that “progress is a terrible thing” In that same spirit, Park likened migration to war in its potential for simultaneously fostering individual tragedy and societal progress.

As in war, the outcome of the immigration we are now experiencing is difficult to discern. And this is precisely what is most lacking in the continuing debate over immigration—a realistic appreciation of the powerful forces with which we are dealing.” [Emphasis added]


[3] It took England 900 years to become a unitary state with decades of brutal wars and occupation to achieve the peace, stability, and prosperity it has today. Israel by contrast has been trying to do the same in less than 70 years in a context that constrains their actions more than anything does, including Christianity, ever placed on the ruthless actions of the English monarchs.

[4] Although this essay acknowledges Fukuyama’s article and his argument from Hegel via Kojeve, his argument is flawed. To put it directly, Harry Jaffa was correct in his 1991 review of End of History, because Strauss is right and Kojeve is wrong as suggested by their debate regarding On Tyranny. To understand this point, consider the belief in modern natural science that haunts Kojeve and by extension Fukuyama’s argument. See (End of History and the Last Man (Avon Books p. 85 footnote 5.) When we work through the footnote to its originating thought, we arrive at Nietzsche-Heidegger understanding of technology and the choice between Strauss and Kojeve. See the recent essay by Mark Blitz Understanding Heidegger on Technology in The New Atlantis. http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/understanding-heidegger-on-technology (accessed 22 July 2014) In the essay Blitz reviews the recent publication of Heidegger’s other essays around his Question Concerning Technology.

[5] The choice is this blunt which is why the stakes are so high. This is not simply a struggle in which civilians are killed for a tactical or strategic military goal or even a political goal. The question is an existential one that cannot be avoided or finessed.

[6] Hamas showed a shrewd political sense when they offered in 2006 to renounce violence and recognize Israel as they courted the Palestinian vote. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2006/jan/12/israel?utm_source=&utm_medium=&utm_campaign= (Accessed 10 August) The problem for Hamas is what is their identity once they accept those liberal tendencies? Can they justify the sacrifices and martyrdom that has fuelled their support? Unlike Nixon who famously used his conservative anti-communism as a strategic device to justify the opening to China, Hamas cannot leverage the deaths of Palestinians in the same way. The question Hamas or any radical Palestinian Government has to answer and defend is “Did Palestinians have to die so you could recognise Israel?” In this regard, the Western propaganda actually works against Hamas because it raises the stakes to a point where they cannot negotiate because it undermines the Western protests and propaganda done on their behalf. Hamas might justify the sacrifice in a way that Kojeve would understand as Hamas would have to suggest something akin to Hegel’s idea “The wounds of the Spirit heal, and leave no scars behind” (Phenomenology of the Spirit p. 407 #(669) www.scribd.com/doc/30409033/hegel-Phenomenology-of-spirit (accessed 12 August 2014)

[7] Hamas has to make sure that the Palestinian people suffer from the violence so that they have a sunk cost in Hamas’s legitimacy. If Hamas fought and they suffered then their suffering would not have meaning. They would only be dying for Hamas not for Palestinian state. To the extent that Hamas’s goals are shown to bankrupt, that is Palestinians want to become even slightly less radical than Hamas, then their sacrifices has been for Hamas’ benefit and not theirs. In other words, in that moment, the interests of Hamas diverge from those of the Palestinian people. Hamas has an overriding interest in linking Palestinian identity to Hamas’ identity and thus the Palestinian people become hostage to Hamas.

[8] The PG is not going to be a liberal democratic state overnight. Instead, the best that can be expected is a state or entity with liberal democratic tendencies. We have to accept this provisional goal. The region lacks a liberal democratic Muslim state to act as a guide. The reason, of course, is that to be liberal democratic is to reduce the role of religion to a secondary institution, which is why the UK is not a liberal democratic state, even though it makes a strong claim to that title.

[9] The liberal democratic tendencies also explain why the issue in Gaza (and the ISIS existence) is not a clash of civilizations. Despite Samuel Huntington’s arguments, the Middle East is not on the cusp of a Caliphate to create an Islamic civilisation to challenge the West. http://www.svt.ntnu.no/iss/Indra.de.Soysa/POL2003H05/huntington_clash%20of%20civlizations.pdf

Islam has not been a coherent civilisation for about 400 years. Moreover, the advent of the nation state system, with the benefits and constraints it brings, has fostered the liberal democratic tendencies. Although Islamic states are riven by tribal and ethnic issues, these, in themselves, do not give rise to a civilizational crisis or conflict.

[10] No, this is not a subtle moral equivalence between the Palestinian Government (Hamas) and Israel. The point is that as Palestinians search for statehood and create an entity with liberal democratic tendencies, they share a similarity in that process Israel followed to create a state to protect its interests. The state it created had to have, at a minimum, liberal democratic tendencies. To be sure, Israel has more than liberal democratic tendencies as it has a robust and vibrant liberal democracy.

[11] Baruch Spinoza is still excommunicated.

Posted in Government, justice, philosophy, statesmanship, strategy, war | Tagged , , , , , , , | 23 Comments

A night at the Symposium: St. John’s College Post Graduate Research Symposium

English: Doorway to St John's College, Durham.

English: Doorway to St John’s College, Durham. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On Thursday the 7th of August, I attended the Post Graduate Research Symposium at St. John’s College in Durham.  The Institute for Advanced Studies hosted the event and Dr. Mark Ogden chaired it.

The event had 10 speakers over 2 sessions. The format was 15 minutes for presentation and questions from the audience.

The speakers were a mix of graduate students and post-doctoral students and the topics ranged from sharks to the Old Testament and the Phenomenology of Privacy to the ultra-cold world of atomic physics.

The first speaker was Rosalind Jelf who presented her MA thesis: Generational Memory and Photography in Post War German Literature.

The paper looked at the way four writers used photographs to create memory and protect memories. The writers dealt with the way the previous generation was involved in National Socialism. Through the photographs, the writers could explore a point of view intrinsic to the photograph and the photographer, which was accessible to others. The photographs became memories as well as triggers to evoke memories that others could access, which raised the question of how photographs can transcend language or culture and yet remain embedded in them for their meaning.

As it is easier to manipulate photographs, the memories that rely on them can be manipulated, which is why it is important to understand how they interact. Her paper offers a way to understand how photographs shape memories and the reciprocal relationship between memories and photographs.

Xia Yiqing’s paper Some Explorative Thoughts on the Effect of Competition in the Health Care Sector was next. It was a timely reminder of the historical context for the current debate on the NHS. His paper discussed the ways in which the industry would be regulated by introducing competition and, in turn, this created a wide series of changes within the sector that occur beyond the headlines.

During the break, we discussed how the NHS is a model that China is looking at in developing its health care sector. Even though one would not expect China’s health care sector to have the same concerns about competition, which one often associates with a capitalistic or market driven economy, the Chinese health care sector has to resolve the gap between supply and demand. As China has to deal with a larger demographic shift than the UK, the future of the NHS can have significant lessons for China and his paper offers a starting point to understand the possible lessons of the impact of competition regulation for China

The third paper was cold, very cold. Alistair Bound presented his research on atomic physics. In Ultracold and Very Small: An introduction to Atomic Physics, he took the audience to a very small and cold place. By capturing atoms at a moment just above absolute zero, the research allowed a better understanding of precise time measurement and quantum computing. The work has the potential to improve services that rely on precise location or times such as GPS monitoring or space exploration. The ability to capture atoms and hold them in place also had practical application for quantum computing, which allows faster computing processing. The wider application is the potential to improve computer encryption.

The fourth paper let us float down a river. Sophie Tindale presented her doctoral research on water management.  Her paper Catchment Connections: new perspectives on Stakeholder involvement in Catchment-Scale Management of Water Resources looked at the way agent based models could help to create better water management. The presentation reflected her first year of work on her PhD. She explored how agent based modelling can be used to improve stakeholder engagement to resolve disputes over the resource and to generate knowledge of the catchment.

Water is an important commodity and natural resource that cuts across different communities. Her research will be useful for those who need to negotiate its use and access by different communities and find an equitable solution.

The fifth paper by Ben Douglas was taken from his PhD dissertation. The paper The Phenomenology of Privacy in UK Law will be of interest to privacy researchers. His use of phenomenology helps to understand how the individual presents or represents themselves in a community and the way the law reflects representation. He looked at the way Naomi Campbell had presented herself as drug free and the newspapers wanted to change that representation by revealing that she was attending counselling sessions associated with drug dependency. His use of phenomenology to explore this tension offers a way to explore the way privacy is developing and the limits to it within UK law.

After the Interval, another set of papers were presented.

The first paper in this session was on sharks. Catherine B. Salter presented her MA thesis Evolution and Phylogeography of Mustelid Sharks. She provided the audience within an insight into the typology and classification of the shark. The presentation highlighted the challenges of working with DNA processing to identify the genetic markers needed to classify the shark. She also highlighted the plight of sharks as millions are harvested from the oceans and many are in danger of extinction. Without a proper classification and understanding of the shark’s genetic structure, it would be difficult to protect them.

Andrew P. Corkhill’s paper on Yugoslavia’s disintegration into war was next. His paper When Europe Failed Yugoslavia: How the Actions of NATO and the European Union after the Second World War Contributed to Conflict in the Balkans provide a view into the challenge of security within the EU and the limits of EU power. His historical analysis looked at the way that the EU’s security choices, which were heavily influenced by the United States of America, limited its ability to deal with the Yugoslavian crisis. As a result, the EU’s response was insufficient and it revealed that they could not act, even on their doorstep without the USA being directly involved.

One area to explore with his research would be the way the EU deals with challenges to dissolution within its own borders. The way that Scotland seeks independence from the UK presents a stark contrast to the way that the breakup of Yugoslavia descended into war. The contrast between the choice of ballots over bullet, which reflects the history of the relationship, would be a rich source of comparative research. Do democracies break up differently?

The final papers from the evening, which I could not attend, were

Madison N. Pierce

Just as the Holy Spirit Says Hebrews 3.7-4.11 and the Spirit’s Promise of Rest

Jane Berry

Simply Sweet—a Synthetic Route Towards Graphene-Based Membranes and their Potential Application for Water Purification

Jonathan Berry

Designing 3D Sound.

Dr. Mark Ogden chaired the event, introduced each session, and provided context for each presentation. The event offered younger scholars the chance to present their work and it sparked stimulating discussions. The event is a credit to St John’s College as it shows the depth, breadth, and variety of the scholarship at the college.

I enjoyed the event and look forward to future ones. Although I am not involved in academic research, I found the event interesting because it allowed me to interact with people I would not normally meet through my work. The presentations and the scholarship gave me a different perspective and provided an opportunity to talk with a different audience.

I would recommend future events to anyone interested in the college’s work and a chance to see younger scholars present their work.

Posted in education, good writing, scholarship | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A possible Putin strategic apology



English: TOKYO. President Putin on a tatami at...

English: TOKYO. President Putin on a tatami at the Kodokan Martial Arts Palace. Русский: ТОКИО. На татами во дворце спортивных единоборств «Кодокан». (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some commentators suggest that Mr. Putin is in a difficult position and will find it impossible to explain this event or save face. See for example Tom Nichols excellent piece Panic in Red Square.[1] I believe that reputation management can provide a possible approach to his dilemma.[2] For any avoidance of doubt, I condemn the attack on MH17 and here are my public views on Mr Putin’s leadership.

After his statement supporting an international crash site investigation, Putin could use a strategic apology statement to deflect attention. He could say something like the following.

“You have probably read or heard that we have had a serious problem with the downing of MH17 in the disputed territory of Donetsk.

We have found that separatist forces operating in the area used our equipment inappropriately to fire the missile that brought down the plane.[3]

We regret the loss of life in this tragic mistake. The separatists are under constant threat from the Ukrainian forces and made a mistake.[4] Initial reports indicate that they believed the aircraft to be a legitimate military target. We find the loss of civilian life unacceptable just as we find unacceptable the loss of Russian lives from fascist forces.[5]

To find out what happened, we will launch an investigation. We will invite representatives from the Dutch government to participate. We also ask that he UN nominate a suitably independent candidate for this investigation. We expect the Russian laws to be upheld as befits a sovereign state of its stature and with a tradition to law and justice.[6]

The Russian Federation is a sovereign nation that honours its international obligations. We regret the loss of civilian life. We will find out what happened. If the investigation finds that compensation is required, we will meet our international obligation. In all matters, we will uphold Russian law. We ask the international community join with us and condemn the threats to our patriotic brothers, which contributed to this tragic mistake.[7]

Please note that this advice notice is simply for illustrative purposes. It is not professional advice nor should the Russian Federation or Mr Putin construe it as endorsing a course of action.


[1] Unlike Professor Nichols, I do not believe that Mr. Putin is in a box on this issue nor do I believe that this will unravel Russia’s support for the separatists. We must remember that Mr Putin understands judo and he is skilled at using Western principles against the West. We must remember how he stage managed the Crimean annexations and then caught the West on the back foot when he called a snap election to ratify it. In this, he showed how he could use western democratic principles, elections and “popular” sovereignty, against western critics.  This is not to say that his approach is or was legitimate. Instead, it is to show that he has demonstrated an ability to escape obviously bad situations.

[2] For an example of a strong apology letter to repair corporate reputation consider the example from Tesco a major UK retailer that suffered scandal over horse meat. Please note that I am not equating the Tesco scandal with the MH17 crime. I am pointing out that reputation management follows principles that can be applied to any situation.

[3] Putin will know there is no value in denying the obvious as that hurts his position. Instead, he will seek to twist this into something else like a tragic mistake.

[4] Here Putin will be able to explain this in the context of the Ukrainians taking action against the separatists. By doing this, he can show that shooting down the plane fits within a context of a military conflict and that reinforces the underlying reality that he has tactical and strategic military superiority in the region.

[5] The statement will be one that links the “terrorism” that it has suffered against the West’s rapid condemnation of a “tragic mistake”. He will want to show that Russia is as much a victim as others in fighting the scourge of terrorism.

[6] The goal will be to invite an international representative to give the cover of international legitimacy and it will invite the Danes in the belief that they can be cowed into whatever the Russians find. The Russians will also insist on Russian laws so that they can control the outcomes and remind the world of their robust obedience to law and pursuit of justice.

[7] Putin would want to remind the audience that the separatists were defending themselves and would work to suggest that they were provoked.


The situation is not 1975 and Russia has a number of plausible scenarios to pursue to continue its efforts to pressure Ukraine over Donetsk separatists. Even though the MH17 crime puts them on the back foot and hurts their claims, there is no evidence that the order came directly from Putin or can be linked to him. Having survived as a KGB officer, he will understand the principle of plausible deniability and will be an expert in bureaucratic warfare needed to keep his fingerprints from appearing on the decision. He would have succeeded within the United States government where senior bureaucrats and service secretaries survive and succeed by their ability to avoid leaving any fingerprints on failures despite being nominally responsible. I doubt Mr Putin will be toppled by this issue. He may have to take a different tack on Ukraine and it will limit his ability to influence it in the short and medium term but unless the West finds a way to leverage this into a change on the ground, it will simply become bad publicity, which is something that Russia has traditionally been able to withstand.






Posted in statesmanship, strategy, transparency, war | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How Snowden’s naivety has harmed the NSA in his own words.

English: Aerial view of Osama bin Laden's comp...

English: Aerial view of Osama bin Laden’s compound in the pakistani city of Abbottabad made by the CIA. Italiano: Vista aerea del complesso di Osama bin Laden nella città pakistana di Abbottabad realizzata dalla CIA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For many people, the NSA’s arguments against Snowden appear hollow as they lack a smoking gun. The NSA has not provided any evidence that the leaks have damaged their ability to collect intelligence and deal with terrorist threats. For some NSA defenders, this has been problem. They want to defend the NSA but to do that they would need to disclose classified material, which would simply add to the Snowden fiasco.

Snowden’s interview with the Guardian changed that situation. In that interview, he demonstrated how his revelations have harmed NSA capabilities. At the same time, he demonstrated a frightening ignorance if not naiveté about intelligence and counter intelligence.

Here is his quotation.

What about the accusation that his leaks have caused untold damage to the intelligence capabilities of the west? “The fact that people know communications can be monitored does not stop people from communicating [digitally]. Because the only choices are to accept the risk, or to not communicate at all,” he says, almost weary at having to spell out what he considers self-evident.

“And when we’re talking about things like terrorist cells, nuclear proliferators – these are organised cells. These are things an individual cannot do on their own. So if they abstain from communicating, we’ve already won. If we’ve basically talked the terrorists out of using our modern communications networks, we have benefited in terms of security – we haven’t lost.” (accessed 20 July 2014) (emphasis added)

On the surface, this appears plausible. The bad guys know they are being monitored so they will stop talking on the web. The problem though is that they may stop talking but it does not follow that they will stop trying to kill people. It just means they will have to find another way to do it.

When we look at the statement closely, we see the stupidity and naiveté. This is obvious in three ways.

First, the 9/11 attacks were planned with limited technology. The NSA and other intelligence agencies only caught whispers but not enough to investigate. The signals intelligence they did find was helpful, but the well-disciplined cell structure made it difficult to see the full picture. Osama bin Laden planned for this approach and understood the need for technological stealth. His use of face-to-face communication and cutouts was a major reason why it took the United States 10 years to find him.[1] Even watching the film Zero Dark Thirty would show this.[2]

Second, the bad guys are not going to stop communicating. They are going to stop using the web, or a system that might be compromised by the NSA. This means the NSA will not be able to track them or find out what they are saying. They will not stop communicating; they will use methods that are difficult to break or take more time and resources, which increase the cost to the NSA. As intelligence, like sushi, is best if it is fresh, this has an immediate effect and cost.

One way that terrorists will continue to communicate is face to face. They will arrange to meet. As they have gone off the electronic grid, it will be harder to know the content of those meetings. As a computer analyst, Mr. Snowden probably does not realize how hard it is to break into an ethnic network based on foreign language dialect. Even if you have translator, you still need to penetrate the network. First, you have to recruit someone into that network. That takes time and they may turn out to be a double agent. The CIA found this out when they lost seven agents in Pakistan trying to find Osama Bin Laden.[3] The Al Qaeda group used a double agent to kill them. Again, Zero Dark Thirty explains this point.

The Guardian knows this because they admitted that Greenwald and other reporters have to spend more time meeting face to face rather than relying on telephone or email to communicate. Alan Rusbridger explained this in his 19 August 2013 article.

The Guardian’s work on the Snowden story has involved many individuals taking a huge number of flights in order to have face-to-face meetings. Not good for the environment, but increasingly the only way to operate. Soon we will be back to pen and paper. (Accessed 20 July 2014)

Third, if you have an advantage, you never want to give it up. Intelligence is not a sporting competition where there are rules and parity is virtue. If you lose, you die. If we were to use a sports analogy, you never tell your opponent that you know their weakness and explain it to them. In poker, the opponent’s weakness is their tell. If you want to win, you never tell your opponent their weakness. In the world of the NSA and CIA if you lose, people die so any advantage is always protected. Again, Rusbridger should know this he would protect any source from being revealed for the effect it would have on the source and his own business. Yet, he seems unconcerned with the same situation facing the NSA.

America’s greatest advantage and the terrorist’s greatest weakness was technology. America has a near unassailable advantage in terms of technology. The signals intelligence gave it and its allies a clear and consistent advantage. Now, that advantage is gone. Not only has Snowden stolen the secrets of that advantage, but Greenwald and the Guardian have published them. The terrorist’s tells have been revealed. To regain that advantage, more America agents and assets are going to be killed. America will now have to work harder to track and penetrate those networks. The CIA will have to use agents and assets, rather than technology, to gather intelligence. The United States relies heavily on technology because it values human lives highly and it has a comparative advantage with technology.

Far from being a win, Snowden’s revelations have been a gift to terrorists. The average citizen never had to worry about these issues and never had to worry about them because they were never going to be a NSA target. Even if the NSA collected their information, it was incidental to finding the hard targets. The targets are now harder to find and that will cost both money and lives.

The interview and the consequences from publishing the leaked material tell us a lot about Mr Snowden and Mr Rusbridger. Mr. Rusbridger appears better suited to running a newspaper rather than an intelligence operation and Mr. Snowden has a dangerously limited understanding of the Machiavellian nature of intelligence work. Perhaps like Candide Mr. Snowden will wake up to the brutal Machiavellian world of politics around him. If only Mr Snowden distaste of politics had kept him from making the political decision to steal and disclose America’s secrets. Perhaps Mr. Rusbridger could reflect upon his decision to publish those secrets and be able to explain why it is in the public interest to help terrorists avoid the NSA because the leaks do not help the public do that.


[1] Also, consider the murder of Philip Welsh. He had no electronic signature in his life, which makes it much harder for the police to solve his murder. http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/crime/philip-welshs-simple-life-hampers-search-for-his-killer/2014/05/05/1fd20a52-cff7-11e3-a6b1-45c4dffb85a6_story.html (Accessed 20 July 2014)

[2] I refer to the film only as a common cultural artefact that suggests the problems of using technology to find someone off the grid. http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/movies/2012/12/richard-brody-on-the-deceptive-emptiness-of-zero-dark-thirty.html (Accessed 20 July 2014) see also http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/a-cia-veteran-on-what-zero-dark-thirty-gets-wrong-about-the-bin-laden-manhunt/2013/01/03/4a76f1b8-52cc-11e2-a613-ec8d394535c6_story.html (Accessed 20 July 2014)

[3] http://www.nbcnews.com/id/34687312/ns/world_news-south_and_central_asia/t/al-qaida-double-agent-killed-cia-officers/#.U8xBReNdUQE (Accessed 20 July 2014)


Posted in Government, statesmanship, strategy | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Privacy and the political good.

English: Reporters Without Borders 2009 Press ...

English: Reporters Without Borders 2009 Press Freedom Index world map. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What is missing from the debate on privacy, in general, and the debate over state surveillance, in particular, is the question of the political good either defended or promoted by constraining surveillance and protecting privacy. What is the political good that privacy advocates want to achieve? Is it to be let alone to control one’s person, even in the public domain, and exercise autonomy? Is it to be free from government surveillance to create an identity beyond its reach? Is the political good it serves free expression that supports democratic politics, as any surveillance that invades a person’s privacy is believed to chill their free expression? We see articles that ask and explain what privacy is for, yet these appear to fall short of explaining the political good that privacy serves except to suggest that it is good for freedom of the individual within liberal democracy.[1] These articles return us to the original question: what is the political good that privacy serves or enables?


If our goal is to be let alone, to be “digitally private”, that is to have autonomy in the digital domain, what is a person or a citizen in the digital world? A citizen or a person is a related being and to be a citizen or a related being means to be known. To be known means that the state and our friends will know us and relate to us for good or ill. If in the digital domain we understand and pursue autonomy as the being expressed by a reduced sense of relatedness, we have to consider whether that starts to challenge how we relate in the physical domain. If we want a digital identity that we can control and keep unrelated to our physical person, would our digital “person” become a separate entity. In this view, an individual make themselves private only to the extent that they stop being part of the state, in the extreme, leaving it or living so far away from society as to be a solitary hermit. In such a view, the good that is served is the individual’s good, but not the society’s good and in an extreme view severs the relationship between the individual and the community or state. However, what remains is that an individual still exists within the state framework as their decision to remove themselves is not binding on the state. They have a name and personal details registered with the state. However, most people do not attempt or want that level of privacy (or autonomy) because they understand privacy is to serve an end to which they want. Eventually they have to exist as a person because they are a related being they are the child, parent, or relative of someone. To paraphrase Aristotle, if they live beyond the walls of the city, thus remove themselves entirely from that relationship, they are either a beast or a God. Man is neither even though he aspires to be both at times.

The problem of autonomy leads us to consider a second good that privacy is supposed to serve: a reduction or removal of the government’s surveillance in our lives, in particular, our digital lives.

Bureaucratic shadow

If privacy is a way to reduce government surveillance so that we can control our person (digital or physical), we must consider that we remain part of a society. As part of a society, being a citizen, we have a bureaucratic shadow. A bureaucratic shadow follows all citizens and consumers in the physical and digital domains. We leave a record of our existence through our transactions. No citizen lives without a bureaucratic shadow. Everyone has records and documents they need so that they can establish their identity and their rights within a state or community. This is why privacy by design will only ever be a partial solution to the problem of privacy. If we want to avoid government constraints, to reassert our privacy, we would need to understand our bureaucratic shadow is as much, if not more, of a constraint as any government surveillance or intrusion into our digital lives. Our desire to “control” our digital “person”, if not our physical person, is constrained by the bureaucratic shadow, which reminds us that we are more a creature of the government and institutions than we would like to admit to ourselves. In this political good, we see that privacy becomes a proxy or measure for what the state or community will allow us. In that regard, privacy is a function of the community or the state and it is the space that it allows an individual to act as an individual. Within that space, we see the third potential political good that privacy serves—free expression.

Free expression

If privacy is needed to protect free expression from surveillance, we need to understand how surveillance “chills” free expression. When we look at the causal relationship between surveillance and chilled free speech, we find that it is riddled with ambiguity and contradiction as it simply confuses chilling with anything that we perceive to be limiting our “freedom”.[2] If people listen to a speaker on the bus or the train have they put the speaker under surveillance? If a writer publishes opinions on a social media network are they under surveillance? If the speakers on the bus refrains from speaking on certain topics because they realize people are listening, have they been “chilled”? If no one listens to the speaker or reads the writer, have they been censored or silenced? When we work to connect privacy to personal freedom, we begin to discuss its political good. We return to the first order question of whether privacy is even necessary for freedom and freedom of thought. Privacy by itself does not create freedom or tolerance nor does privacy require tolerance.

When we ask what is the political good that is served by privacy, we demonstrate that privacy is not an end in itself. Privacy is only something that enables a primary good. Privacy appears refers to a space within the state that is not public. The digital domain presents a further difficulty because it can exist beyond the state yet it is dependent upon the state or a corporation for someone to access it. Such an approach to privacy reveals the extent to which it is as an epiphenomenon of the modern state. Privacy, to the extent that it exists, appears as a by-product of the modern social contract as expressed in the modern state’s relationship with an individual or a consumer with a corporation. To put it differently, but directly, the state allows us privacy we do not have it by natural rights.[3] We cannot speak of privacy without reference to the state or even to public opinion. They demarcate the space within which an individual has “privacy”. Yet, that shows the ambiguity and a deeper problem for privacy. If the individual follows public opinion or is shaped by public opinion, the individual is only understood in contradistinction to or in relation to public opinion or the community. We believe we have a private sphere, separate from the public, in which the state cannot intrude. Yet, that belief is based on the state’s respect for it rather than an intrinsic part of the individual. In the digital domain, this dependent relationship can be seen in the necessity of a system administrator who has access to your accounts. In your own home, though, you do not have a system administrator. The system administrator shows the tension or difference between the nature of the two realms and their offer of privacy. To the extent that the private sphere exists, it is limited by public opinion. Public opinion though plays a greater role than the state in an individual’s private life. The individual is only private to the extent that they can escape public opinion, which is not something they can do immediately by leaving the public domain.

The tension between the public and private domains is something that Hannah Arendt discussed in her book The Human Condition. There she discussed the idea that for the Ancient Greeks the citizen was only fully alive or fully human when they participated in the public space.[4] In the public space, the life within the community, the citizen can reach their fullest potential. By contrast, the private domain was a limited space cut off from or dependent upon the public domain. Consider the case of prisoners, who are cut off from the public realm because of their crimes. In prison, they lose their political rights and in that sense their access to what makes them fully human. For the duration of their sentence, they live a sub-human life. They are not living an inhuman existence nor are they less than human. They cannot be fully human because they cannot participate fully in the public domain, which means they cannot participate fully in the community. The difference between the public and the private realm was expressed clearly in a tyranny. In a tyranny, only the tyrant was a public person. Everyone else was private. Only the tyrant could act publicly as those subject to the tyranny could not participate in a public life except through the tyrant. In a tyranny, there is no public space as there is in a democracy. Artificial spaces may be created in a tyranny and these serve to remind those who participate that they exist only at the tyrant’s dispensation.

Does this suggest that privacy is only important as a correlate to the public domain? The modern idea of privacy seems to argue against this point as the public domain has been drained of meaning and it is not a place where the individual finds their fullest potential. Instead, privacy advocates want to increase the private domain even further. They want to reduce the public domain to such an extent that everything becomes, for the lack of a better word, publicly private. They want to act on a public system, such as Facebook, but retain privacy controls. They do not want it public in the sense that it is controlled by the government, or owned by the people, in the sense of a public park or a public library. In this desire, they demonstrate liberalism’s success in paving the way for an autonomous individual at the expense of the public domain. The citizen no longer finds their fulfilment in the public domain where they participate to shape the laws that guide the way they live. Instead, they find it in the private domain where as an individual they can exercise their autonomy and find their fullest, if still limited, expression as a human.

If we extended the Ancient Greek idea to the modern world, it would mean that only elected officials or public officials could act publicly. They participate fully in the public domain when they debate, create, and enforce the laws that shape the way they (and others) will live. However, the modern political system allows more citizens to participate indirectly through representation in the way the laws are made. In the current political system, the indirect participation through representation also changes our understanding of the private realm even as it increases the potential for public participation. However, it also means that a citizen’s interests are diverted into other areas. As the public domain is reduced, or rendered less important by the appeals of other areas, the private domain becomes a place to find fulfilment. Unlike the ancient world, the freedom of the private sphere today depends on the modern state’s technological capacity to sustain a public domain without the public’s direct involvement and create enough opportunities, such as fame and fortune, to maintain the citizen’s interest in the private sphere. The public realm one could argue exists to sustain the private domain. In the private domain, we see the political good that privacy serves.

Privacy’s political good is hedonism.

The arguments about privacy are extended and exaggerated in the digital domain. In the digital domain, which is hybrid of public and private, the individual appears to have a different relationship with the state and the community. In the digital domain privacy does not appear an end itself and it is hollow of meaning until it is filled by someone’s intent. In many cases, the intent is often to remove the user from the public’s gaze or the government’s gaze that represents the public. The desire to escape the public gaze reflects the intent of the author of the modern idea of privacy: Thomas Hobbes.

Thomas Hobbes developed the idea of the private domain within the commonwealth as he distinguished that he public opinion must be sustained for public safety, which allowed private opinion to remain. He did this in part because he had learned from the English Civil War and the problems associated with religious belief being the basis for persecution. Even though his views on the state mean is often considered an absolutist, his work sets the foundation for the modern idea of privacy in which the public domain supports and protects the private domain. The pursuit of pleasure is what drives the private domain. In this, Hobbes was a political hedonist. The individual wanted their own good. We see that hedonism is the political good that privacy serves. Unlike Hobbes’s age where virtue was a strong constraint on the pursuit of hedonism at the cost of society, the modern era is marked by the pursuit of private pleasures. One could argue that the demand for privacy, especially in the digital realm is an attempt to give private pleasures and practices public protection, which would invert Hobbes. Hobbes believed that any private pursuits or pleasures had to be subject to or restrained from the public domain. Instead, the idea that Spinoza introduced, when he took Hobbes one-step further, was that the state had to protect the private sphere no matter what it pursued, is now inverted. In the digital domain, privacy enables private pleasures and the political system is to be adjusted to protect those private pleasures either digital or physical.[5] The demand for digital privacy is reflects a pursuit of digital pleasures as if they are political or public acts and protected accordingly. Political hedonism means that the public domain is drained of any meaning except to the point where it expresses our private pleasures. The political good that privacy serves is hedonism. The demand for digital privacy now reduces the public realm to serving our private pleasures.

Even as we ask “Is this the freedom we have sacrificed so much to achieve?”, we must remember that without surveillance we would be unable to achieve it for the extent of our freedom is the limit of the modern state to protect and promote our private pleasures as a public right.



[1] See Julie E. Cohen, What is Privacy for? Harvard Law Review vol 126, 2013 http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2175406  (accessed 6 July 2014) The challenge is that contrary to Cohen’s argument, liberal democracy does rest upon a surveillance structure. In an important way, as set out by Hobbes and never refuted by liberal democratic theory, is the need for the state to conduct surveillance sufficient to protect and promote the citizen’s right. Moreover, privacy has never been necessary for innovation. The individual needs to be free to associate and innovate; however, that freedom is not the same as privacy. People innovated before there was a modern state that created the idea of privacy and one cannot assume that innovation is always a heterodox position.

[2] Public opinion has a stronger ability to chill free expression than state surveillance. The power of public opinion to create conformity is nearly unparalleled in its long-term effectiveness. http://lawrenceserewicz.wordpress.com/2014/01/29/surveillance-conformity-and-censorship-the-reality-and-the-myth/ (accessed 6 July 2014)

[3] The European Convention on Human Rights and the United Nations conventions of Human Rights are based on positive rights. They do not derive their power or authority as natural rights. There is an argument within Locke that man has property in himself. Yet, that rests upon an assumption created by the modern state rather than based on an argument from nature. Self ownership is a self-assertion. Moreover, as an assertion, it does not say that ownership of self creates or determines privacy within a state, only that one has responsibility for one’s self to the extent allowed or required within the social contract. In other words, the idea of the individual and by its extension privacy finds its fullest expression in the modern state and is not automatically associated with natural right.

[4] See for example chapter 2, The Public and the Private Realm. http://frontdeskapparatus.com/files/arendt.pdf  (accessed 6 July 2014)

[5] See for example the Economist Virtual Pleasures Cyber Hedonism, which explores why the young who are exposed to the web prefer to pursue their pleasures rather than political change. http://www.economist.com/node/13062236 (accessed 6 July) in this, it seems to suggest what Hobbes suggested about reason now becoming the scout and spy for the passions. http://lawrenceserewicz.wordpress.com/2014/06/01/is-the-web-now-a-scout-and-spy-for-the-passions/ (accessed 6 July 2014)

Posted in censorship, corruption, privacy, strategy | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How does a bureaucracy protect your freedom?

President Barack Obama, standing before the U....

President Barack Obama, standing before the U.S. Constitution, delivers an address on national security, Thursday, May 21, 2009 at the National Archives. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a liberal democracy, the law restrains the government. The people consent to the law that creates the government, which in turn, enforces the law and protects the people. The basic social contract is protection and obedience are linked by consent. A government protects us so we obey the law, and we obey the law so the government protects us. As such, obedience to the law is what keeps liberal democratic political institutions healthy and allows them to endure.

The theory is fine, but what happens in practice?

In practice, the courts ensure the law is enforced correctly, proportionately, and accurately. The courts are the final arbiter of these issues. However, before we get to the courts, our first defence is always the bureaucracy. It deals with the law every day and it determines how it is applied. If the paperwork is not right, the issue may go to the court and the law may fail. Thus, the bureaucracy defends your freedom without you realizing it.

We can see this in practice in the recent case of Miranda v. Secretary of State for the Home Office Department. In that case, the Metropolitan Police stopped and interrogated David Miranda based on a request from the UK intelligence services. To ensure the stop was legal, the police had to complete a form called a Port Circulation Sheet (PCS). To the public, it can often appear that when someone asks for a form to be completed that they are being a “jobsworth” or being bureaucratic. What they do not realize is that bureaucrats face the same challenge. Often times, an employee of one organisation can be reluctant to complete the form with sufficient detail for the other organisation. People sometimes use the bureaucracy as an excuse. “I did not have time to complete the form” or “It takes too long to complete the form.” While these laments are often true, they mask a deeper reality of life within the modern state.

In such moments, your freedom and the freedom of others can hang in the balance. In extreme cases, such as in a hospital, it can mean the difference between life and death. In the Miranda case, it decided whether the case succeeded for failed, whether we have justice or arbitrary power to determine how the law is applied.

The paragraphs 9-13 of the Miranda ruling tell the story.

“9. The Security Service (for which the first defendant Secretary of State is responsible by statute) had undertaken an operation relating to Mr Snowden. They became aware of the claimant’s movements. At 0830 on Thursday 15 August 2013 they briefed Detective Superintendent Stokley of SO15, the Counter-Terrorism Command in the Metropolitan Police, the second defendant. On Friday 16 August a Port Circulation Sheet (PCS), a form of document used to provide information to counter-terrorism police officers, was issued by the Security Service to the Metropolitan Police and received at the National Ports Office at 2159. On page 2, against a box asking for confirmation “that the purpose of an examination will be to assist in making a determination about whether the person appears to be someone who is or has been concerned in the Commission, Preparation or Instigation of acts of terrorism (CPI)”, the Security Service had entered the words “Not Applicable”. On the same page this was stated:

“Intelligence indicates that MIRANDA is likely to be involved in espionage activity which has the potential to act against the interests of UK national security. We therefore wish to establish the nature of MIRANDA’s activity, assess the risk that MIRANDA poses to UK national security and mitigate as appropriate. We are requesting that you exercise your powers to carry out a ports stop against MIRANDA.”

This first PCS was not actively considered when it was received. A second PCS was received at the National Ports Office on Saturday 17 August at 1247. This too contained the “Not Applicable” entry, and also the invitation to the police to carry out a port stop (plainly a reference to Schedule 7). Another section, headed “Guidance for Port Officers”, was considerably expanded, setting out a series of questions which the Security Service desired should be asked of the claimant.

10. Acting DI Woodford was the Ports Duty Officer for Heathrow over the weekend 17 – 18 August. He viewed the second PCS at the behest of PS Holmes, who had received it. He “immediately saw that the PCS did not give sufficient information to provide police with the assurance that the use of Schedule 7 would be appropriate and lawful” (witness statement, paragraph 11). He considered that the “Not Applicable” entry was in conflict with the invitation to the police to carry out a port stop under the Schedule. He agreed with PS Holmes that the PCS should be returned to the Security Service for confirmation that any examination of the claimant following a port stop would be for the statutory purpose given by Schedule 7 (paragraph 13).

11. Meanwhile on Friday 16 August 2013 the Security Service had sent a note to D/Supt Stokley headed “National Security Justification for proposed operational action around David MIRANDA”. The redacted text includes this:

“2… We strongly assess that MIRANDA is carrying items which will assist in GREENWALD releasing more of the NSA and GCHQ material we judge to be in GREENWALD’s possession. Open source research details the relationship between POITRAS, GREENWALD and SNOWDEN which corroborates our assessment as to the likelihood that GREENWALD has access to the protectively marked material SNOWDEN possesses. Our main objectives against David MIRANDA are to understand the nature of any material he is carrying, mitigate the risks to national security that this material poses…”

3. We are requesting that you exercise your powers to carry out a ports stop against David MIRANDA…

4. We judge that a ports stop of David MIRANDA is the only way of mitigating the risks posed by David MIRANDA to UK national security… Additionally there is a substantial risk that David MIRANDA holds material which would be severely damaging to UK national security interests. SNOWDEN holds a large volume of GCHQ material which, if released, would have serious consequences for GCHQ’s collection capabilities, as well as broader SIA operational activities, going forwards…”

12 At 1719 on Saturday 17 August a final PCS was delivered to the police from the Security Service. It had some text in common with earlier versions (“Intelligence indicates… ports stop against MIRANDA”), but also this:

“We assess that MIRANDA is knowingly carrying material, the release of which would endanger people’s lives. Additionally the disclosure, or threat of disclosure, is designed to influence a government, and is made for the purpose of promoting a political or ideological cause. This therefore falls within the definition of terrorism and as such we request that the subject is examined under Schedule 7.”

On his own account DI Woodford did not see the final PCS on the Saturday, but was told what it contained over the telephone. Accordingly he “indicated that [he] was satisfied that the use of Schedule 7 was appropriate” (statement paragraph 14). Meantime at about 1730 that day another officer, DS Bird, head of the Ports Team, told D/Supt Stokley that following “dialogue” between the Security Service and the Ports Team he (DS Bird) “was now satisfied that there was a justification for the Schedule 7 stop”. D/Supt Stokley was given to understand that this was reflected in the PCS, which however he did not see (“it is not my role to approve them”: witness statement of 30 October 2013, paragraph 38).

13 DI Woodford saw the final PCS early in the morning of Sunday 18 August at Heathrow. He “did not know at the time what ‘the material’ referred to in the PCS consisted of” (paragraph 16). However “[w]ith regard to the PCS forms, if [he] had not been satisfied that the MPS would be acting lawfully in undertaking a Schedule 7 stop based on the information received, [he] would not have agreed to the examination” (paragraph 19). And so the stop went ahead, as I have said at 0805 on 18 August. It was executed by two SO15 officers, PC 206005 and PC 206610. They detained the claimant (for nine hours, the maximum permitted period – Schedule 7 paragraph 6) and questioned him. DI Woodford was with them to meet the aircraft at the gate. The claimant’s hand luggage was examined, and items retained which as I have said included encrypted storage devices. Mr Oliver Robbins, Deputy National Security Adviser for Intelligence, Security and Resilience in the Cabinet Office, indicates in his first witness statement (paragraph 6) that the encrypted data contained in the external hard drive taken from the claimant contains approximately 58,000 highly classified UK intelligence documents. Many are classified SECRET or TOP SECRET. Mr Robbins states that release or compromise of such data would be likely to cause very great damage to security interests and possible loss of life.”

If the Police had not insisted that the paper was completed and the reason s section of the form completed to their satisfaction, then the stop may not have happened. The police understood what was at stake as an incomplete form would undermine their case. They have to obey the law and the law requires the paperwork to be completed.

If that form had not been completed properly, the case would have collapsed. The claimants would be able to show due process was not followed. The stop would not have been legally justified. Instead of justice, it would have been the exercise of arbitrary state power.

Now, I doubt that routine requests like this in local government, such as those relating to s.29 (3) of the Data Protection Act, receive such scrutiny. However, the obligation local government officers have to justice, which makes our democracies work, requires such vigilance whether it be at the highest levels of national security or at the everyday business of a local council.

In that brief moment, you can see how a bureaucracy and the due process of the law make the difference between justice and arbitrary state power. So the next time you are concerned about state power being used arbitrarily ask to see the paperwork. If it is surveillance by a local authority, ask to see the Regulatory Powers Investigation Act (RIPA) authorisation. If it is an exemption under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) ask to see the public interest test. If your personal data is breached, ask to see the data breach investigation report.

These and other small bureaucratic acts are what help you keep the government in check by protecting you from arbitrary power.




Enhanced by Zemanta
Posted in Government, justice, local government, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is the web now a scout and spy for the passions?

The frontispiece of the book Leviathan by Thom...

The frontispiece of the book Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We often see the web as a place where people can share information and learn. In many ways, the web provides information in ways that break down traditional hierarchies as it allows information to be linked horizontally while traditional approaches to information were often found vertically which required going through a gatekeeper. The gatekeeper could be the physical distance from the information as well as a person or institution that controlled access. Now, the web allows people to search for information and connected in ways that they choose. They can explore and investigate issues that interest them and feed their appetite or thirst for knowledge and information. The web allows us to pursue those interests better than any previous era.

Democratic access to knowledge and our appetites

Unlike any previous era, the web has opened up opportunities and knowledge for the average person that would have only been available to the wealthy and the connected. The average person can follow their intellectual interests and their passions faster than previously. By democratising our access, the web has also allowed something implicit within the human person to become explicit or at least provide it with more capacity. The web has allowed our thoughts to become scouts and spies for our passions. The phrase, taken from Thomas, an English philosopher, suggests the way that our intellect serves our passions.

Pursue power or pointless proclivities?

In his most famous book, The Leviathan, Hobbes raised this point in his discussion on the intellectual virtues. In chapter 8, Of the Virtues Commonly Called Intellectual and Their contrary Defect, he argued that all men want to pursue power, riches, knowledge and honour but all of these can be reduce to the pursuit of power. If a man does not pursue these with his thoughts then, he may as well be dead because if his interests go to less important or inconsequential matters, then he is less than fully human. In making this argument Hobbes argues that our thoughts become the scouts and spies for the passions. Our thoughts work for our passion, the passion to pursue (and obtain) power or some other passion.

“For the thoughts are to the desires as scouts and spies to range abroad and find the way to the things desired, all steadiness of the mind’s motion, and all quickness of the same, proceeding from thence.”

The web is almost a purpose built mechanism to be a scout and spy for our desires. The search engines allow us to fulfil our desires either for gossip, titillation, sexual gratification and occasionally curiosity and learning. In some cases, they can be used for the pursuit of power. However, this appears to be rare because of the dominance of the other goals for the average person. Technology, it would appear, has enhanced our reason so that it serves our desires rather than reason directing and ordering our passions. Moreover, it does not direct us towards power but the less important interests.

If you do not pursue power you may as well be dead

Hobbes continues by explaining that without the desire for power, man may has well be dead. Yet, if an individual pursue those other goals, the entertainments, the web may unleash the flaws within the person. We start to explore for the weirdest, the most extreme, and the most outlandish beyond our usual needs.

“For as to have no desire is to be dead; so to have weak passions is dullness; and to have passions indifferently for everything, giddiness and distraction; and to have stronger and more vehement passions for anything than is ordinarily seen in others is that which men call madness.”

The web does introduce a type of madness in individuals in two ways. First, it introduces them to goals other than the pursuit of power. Second, it encourages people to pursue their passions in a disordered manner such as narcissism.

Whereof there be almost as many kinds as of the passions themselves. Sometimes the extraordinary and extravagant passion proceedeth from the evil constitution of the organs of the body, or harm done them; and sometimes the hurt, and indisposition of the organs, is caused by the vehemence or long continuance of the passion. But in both cases the madness is of one and the same nature.

If we apply Hobbes to our current condition, we see in him a description of the narcissism of the web and the way the web disillusions the mind. In that sense, the web creates a solipsistic syndrome where the individual is either full self-conceit or simply disillusioned and depressed by it.

The passion whose violence or continuance maketh madness is either great vainglory, which is commonly called pride and self-conceit, or great dejection of mind.

However, the problem is not the solipsistic syndrome by itself. The deeper problem for Hobbes, and for us, is that when man is not pursuing power, his pursuits of experiences that confirm his pride lead to anger. When the life on the web does not correspond to his reality, he becomes angry.

Pride subjecteth a man to anger, the excess whereof is the madness called rage, and fury. And thus it comes to pass that excessive desire of revenge, when it becomes habitual, hurteth the organs, and becomes rage: that excessive love, with jealousy, becomes also rage: excessive opinion of a man’s own self, for divine inspiration, for wisdom, learning, form, and the like, becomes distraction and giddiness: the same, joined with envy, rage: vehement opinion of the truth of anything, contradicted by others, rage.

Thus Hobbes helps us to understand how our experience on the web is translated into behaviours in the physical domain. The deeper challenge, though, that Hobbes reminds us of is that the liberalism he created unleashes that pride and therefore needs to be restrained. Hobbes created a restraint in the form of the Leviathan. Today that Leviathan is in danger and is unable to restrain the passions that have been unleashed by technology. The forces unleashed by undirected pride cannot be contained by the commonwealth. The Leviathan is literally being consumed from within as each individual wants to exercise their unlimited pride and demands that the Leviathan enable it rather than restrain it. Each person, through their technological augmentation, or rather the web’s promise of such power, demands that their pride be satisfied. The digital domain might be able to entertain such notions, but the physical domain cannot.

I want to be the judge in my own case, what could be wrong with that?

We can see such prideful thinking today in the logic that supports Edward Snowden and other web libertarians. They demand that the physical world reflect their vision, and behaviour, in the digital domain where they can be the judges in their own case. When their pursuits, for which they are lauded and glorified, do not translate into power, for they have not pursued political power, they become angry and resentful. They then believe that the sovereign state represses their ability to translate their digital status into the physical domain. They have judged themselves worthy, and others have acknowledged their status, so the only thing that stands in the way of their pride, in this view, is the Leviathan. We can see this thinking encouraged by theorists like Corey Robbin. In his article on failed Hobbesian states he appears to make the claim that the sovereign state, according to Hobbes, forbids us from holding our own opinions or being the judges in our own cases. His argument suggests that the Leviathan is going to determine our thoughts. However, the passage he cites (below) to support this view means the opposite. The Leviathan only becomes involved in doubtful cases concerning the interpretation of miracles, hardly the same as discussing personal safety, and it only suggests that the Sovereign is the only neutral judge in such matters. In other words, individuals need to offer their disputes to the sovereign, a third party, to avoid a partisan decision as an individual will not be neutral in judging their own case.

The individual judges what is best for society?

The alternative, which Robbin appears to be suggesting, is the solipsistic syndrome, where each individual will judge what is best in their own cases which leads to anarchy. The approach denies that the community or the sovereign, is empowered to determine peace or war and right or wrong for the community. The individual need only pursue what they believe to be right, they only need to follow their passions, be the judges of their own case. Curiously, Robbin fails to realize that such an approach, if it were true, would lead us back to the point that Hobbes wanted to avoid: the state of nature.

Does a sovereign take away our private thoughts or our public acts?

Robbin says that the sovereign is taking away our ability to decide what might threaten us. We cannot judge what a threat is and therefore the sovereign must decide for us. https://www.jacobinmag.com/2012/12/yours-mine-but-not-ours/

The only solution to this problem, Hobbes concludes, is to create an all-powerful sovereign to whom we cede this basic right — not the right to defend ourselves from certain and immediate danger (a right no one can rationally cede) but the right to be the judge of what might threaten us and of what actions we will take to protect ourselves from what might threaten us. When we submit to sovereign power, Hobbes says in Elements of Law, we are forbidden “to be our own judges” of our security, for the sovereign, Hobbes adds in Leviathan, is he “to whom in all doubtfull cases, wee have submitted our private judgments.” [emphasis added]

The passage appears to distort what Hobbes meant. When we look at Robbin’s use of Elements of the Law quotation, we begin to see what appears to be the problem. In Chapter 17 there is only one reference to being forbidden to be our own judges and it does not relate to security. The social contract is predicated on the idea that we give up our private decisions to create a community so that we will not have to live with the constant threat that exemplifies the state of nature.

Here is the reference being our own judges in chapter 17 of the Elements of the Laws.

For every man’s passion weigheth heavy in his own scale, but not in the scale of his neighbour. And this rule is very well known and expressed by this old dictate, Quod tibi fieri non vis, alteri ne feceris. [Do unto others as you would have them do unto you [Translated by Google]]

10. These laws of nature, the sum whereof consisteth in forbidding us to be our own judges, and our own carvers, and in commanding us to accommodate one another; in case they should be observed by some, and not by others, would make the observers but a prey to them that should neglect them; leaving the good, both without defence against the wicked, and also with a charge to assist them: which is against the scope of the said laws, that are made only for the protection and defence of them that keep them.

What we find is that it is not the sovereign that forbids us from being our own judges, but the laws of nature. In other words, the proper application of reason in accordance with nature tells us that we cannot judge in our own case. The passage is explaining the basic rule of fairness or justice; you cannot judge your own case. The law is designed to protect those who obey them and punish those who disobey. We can still decide if we have been injured and whether we wish to bring our case to court, before the sovereign, as we still retain our freedom in this regard.

Can we have peace and order if every one judges their own case?

The second problem is that the reference that we must submit our private judgements to the sovereign is taken out of context. The section from which it is taken is not focused on security or on private judgement simply. The section covers a specific issue where private judgements must be offered to an arbiter to avoid greater problems. To understand this quotation, we have to turn to chapter 37 of the Leviathan where the quotation is found. The section is about miracles and man is only giving up his judgement about religious dogma which the sovereign, per chapter 18, must monitor for the danger of threat to public order or safety. It is not that man must give up his judgement about his security, he has given up his judgement to the sovereign on doubtful cases regarding whether something is a miracle.

And when that is done, the thing they pretend to be a miracle, we must both see it done and use all means possible to consider whether it be really done; and not only so, but whether it be such as no man can do the like by his natural power, but that it requires the immediate hand of God. And in this also we must have recourse to God’s lieutenant, to whom in all doubtful cases we have submitted our private judgements. For example, if a man pretend that after certain words spoken over a piece of bread, that presently God hath made it not bread, but a god, or a man, or both, and nevertheless it looketh still as like bread as ever it did, there is no reason for any man to think it really done, nor consequently to fear him till he enquire of God by his vicar or lieutenant whether it be done or not.

The sovereign intervenes in doubtful matters concerning religious dogma rather than all private judgements. As Hobbes lived in an age of religion fuelled civil war, he understood how disputes involving religious dogma become a spark for violent conflict. Moreover, he argued in chapter 18 of the Leviathan that when man creaes the sovereign, the sovereign is given the power, the right, to determine public opinion on matters relating to public safety. In other words, the sovereign has responsibility to maintain public order, as no one individual can decide their own case regarding the public order lest a tyranny be created. The sovereign is not interested in what opinions are best as their only concern is for public opinions that threaten the public order.

Sixthly, it is annexed to the sovereignty to be judge of what opinions and doctrines are averse, and what conducing to peace; and consequently, on what occasions, how far, and what men are to be trusted withal in speaking to multitudes of people; and who shall examine the doctrines of all books before they be published. For the actions of men proceed from their opinions, and in the well governing of opinions consisteth the well governing of men’s actions in order to their peace and concord. ….It belonged therefore to him that hath the sovereign power to be judge, or constitute all judges of opinions and doctrines, as a thing necessary to peace; thereby to prevent discord and civil war.

The sovereign does not proscribe speech, but it will act to prevent speech that is dangerous to the public order. We can see that today as hate speech laws exist and statements that are libellous or slanderous or defamatory are outlawed. In this way, our speech is curbed and the sovereign has a role in determining those cases brought before it so that no one is a judge in their own case. Moreover, the issue is not simply speech; it is that speech leads to deeds. Thus, it is not speech or thought that is constrained it is the deeds that may follow from it.

Words and thoughts are safe but deeds are dangerous

The idea was developed by one of Hobbes’s contemporaries Baruch Spinoza. Spinoza explains in Chapter 20 of A Theologico-Political Treatise why speech and private judgements were defended by the state but not public acts that ran contrary to the state.

For, although mens free judgments are very diverse, each one thinking that he alone knows everything, and although complete unanimity of feeling and speech is out of the question, it is impossible to preserve peace, unless individuals abdicate their right of acting entirely on their own judgment. Therefore, the individual justly cedes the right of free action, though not of free reason and judgment; no one can act against the authorities without danger to the state, though his feelings and judgment may be at variance therewith; he may even speak against them, provided that he does so from rational conviction, not from fraud, anger, or hatred, and provided that he does not attempt to introduce any change on his private authority. [Emphasis added]

Robbin’s analysis of Hobbes appears to confirms the beliefs among the web libertarians that the sovereign is created solely to tell them what to think and how to act. The sovereign is only interested in how they act. Thoughts and speech are not the problem. Where they do become a possible problem is in national security, but this too reminds us of the sovereign’s limits. National security can justify intelligence collection system for electronic communication only to the extent that private statements or conspiracies can lead to public acts that threaten public safety.  Only in that circumstance, with a reasonable suspicious that such private judgements are linked to the reasonable threat of a public act, does the sovereign act. The sovereign, in other words, is doing its job to maintain the peace and stability needed to prosper. To that end, and that end alone, men consent to create a sovereign to protect their interests and make sure that no one is a judge in their own case.

Is the problem our pride or those who encourage rather than restrain it?

The web encourages a certain libertarian narcissism where people want to judge their own cases and they do not want to live by society’s obligations or rules. They want society to reflect their wishes and when it fails to react, they become angry. Their pride is injured so they claim either the sovereign is denying them their right to judge or their freedom of thought as it forces them to conform. In either case, their argument becomes one that the system is corrupt because their digital status is not reflected in the physical domain, which means the political system is broken. The physical world does not work on open access and the demand that it work like the digital domain forgets that the digital domain is a creature of the natural domain not the other way around no matter how hard they may wish for it. What compounds this problem is that those experienced in the world will encourage such thinking and encourage such behaviour at the expense of the young and idealistic. The web encourages the cynical exploitation of the solipsistic syndrome masked as youthful idealism. Once the deed occurs, those who encouraged it suddenly offer blame for a corrupt world masked as condolences.

The digital libertarians may yet learn to understand Hobbes’s lesson that all men pursue power and anything else, no matter how brilliant or how well received by the admiring crowd, is simply an entertainment.



Enhanced by Zemanta
Posted in censorship, corruption, Government, republicanism, statesmanship | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

If the NSA suppresses political dissent, why are they so bad at it?

English: First page of Constitution of the Uni...

English: First page of Constitution of the United States Česky: První strana originálu Ústavy Spojených států amerických Español: La página primera de la Constitución de los Estados Unidos de América (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I came across Barry Eisler’s post Motive, Means, and Opportunity: Why NSA Secrecy Should Worry Us All and I thought he would explain why secrecy was bad for a liberal democracy. Although he never discussed this issue, he did make a more important claim that is more interesting. He claimed that liberal democratic governments, like the United States suppress dissent.

When it comes to domestic dissent, the government always has a motive. It’s just human nature to see ourselves as noble and good and our detractors as malignant.  And indeed, the historical evidence for the proposition that governments tend to view dissenters as the enemy is overwhelming: see CointelproProject Minaret; and Project Shamrock for just a few recent historical examples, or the Obama administration’s unprecedented campaign against whistleblowers for something more contemporary.

Here we begin to see a problem. Mr Eisler is talking about intelligence activities and immediately equating them with suppressing of political dissent. In each of these programmes, we find that the surveillance was authorised by the government. That in itself is not surprising. What is still not clear is how the monitoring turned into suppressing the dissent. Mr Eisler, nor does anyone else it would appear, suggests that these “dissenters” were assassinated or kept from expressing their views. Moreover, the various people on the lists only appear to have been linked because they were on the list not because they were dissenter. We do not know why they were on the list. To put it directly, being on a list is not the same as being suppressed for dissenting.

If we leave aside the problem with confusing an intelligence gathering activity with suppressing political dissent or being on a list with being suppressed, we still have a second problem. The second problem is that Mr Eisler confuses dissenters with whistleblowers.  In most cases, the whistleblower does not hate his government or country or even dissent from the government or the country. Instead, the whistleblower is pointing out something illegal. The dissenter, by contrast, is disagreeing with the policy, procedures, or position of the government and perhaps the country. They are publicly dissenting from either the government’s accepted position or the country’s or both. By equating the whistleblower with the dissenter, we have a specific activity; whistle blowing now being equated with a form of political speech.  The two are rarely the same. The concern for political speech, however, leads us to the third and deeper problem with Mr Eisler’s post.

He suggests that the United States Government suppresses dissent. Yet, if that were the case, why would someone like Glenn Greenwald is allowed to publish his books and travel freely within the country? Why would the Intercept be allowed to operate and publish? We need to move beyond such superficial and obvious points to a deeper intellectual problem with Mr Eisler’s thinking. To understand the contradiction in his position, we need to look to the political theorists who developed the idea of a liberal democracy and what it means. There we find the opposite of what he is claiming. Liberal democracies do not suppress dissent. Liberal democracies emerged and thrived because they are predicated on the idea of protecting freedom of thought and freedom of public speech. The most famous and outspoken proponent of this idea was Baruch Spinoza. He wrote the following, which suggests Mr Eisler does not understand liberal democracy or political dissent.

For instance, supposing a man shows that a law is repugnant to sound reason, and should therefore be repealed; if he submits his opinion to the judgment of the authorities (who, alone, have the right  of making and repealing laws), and meanwhile acts in nowise contrary to that law, he has deserved well of the state, and has behaved as a good citizen should; but if he accuses the authorities of injustice, and stirs up the people against them, or if he seditiously strives to abrogate the law without their consent, he is a mere agitator and rebel. (p.140)

The central point, which Mr. Eisler and others seem to forget, is that liberal democracies will not tolerate acts that seek to overthrow or damage the government or harm the public safety. They will tolerate free thought and free speech and even active public dissent Free thought and speech are fine. Public acts to thwart the law or overthrow the government through violence are not acceptable. What remains is the problem that neither Mr Eisler nor Mr Greenwald can solve. How to respond to public speech or private thought that will be turned into a public act that hurts the public and public safety? If Mr. Eisler could tell us that we would have no need for the NSA. However, he would do well to remember that even theocracies have spy agencies.

Neither the NSA nor the United States government is designed or directed to stop political dissent. To believe that or to argue that is to suggest something that has no evidence. We may disagree with such programmes and the government that directs them, but to attribute something to them which is false is to fall prey to what he dislikes: the Fundamental Misattribution Error. Mr. Eisler has attributed to the NSA behaviour he dislikes. Curiously, though in the final part of his post, he moves from dissent (words) to the possibility of threats (actual deeds).

Here we have a strange situation. Mr Eisler does not think public safety, either in terms of physical safety or economic safety is sufficient to justify a national security agency. I would ask, if those two goals, which are the main responsibility of any decent governments is not enough, what is? What goals should a government pursue if it is not trying to keep its citizens safe and help to maintain prosperity?

We arrive at the curious point where Mr. Eisler apparently dislikes the NSA and the government because they keep its citizens safe and help to ensure the countries general welfare. The general welfare, he would recall, is the central task of the government according to the United States Constitution.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. [Emphasis added]

I read his post because I thought I would learn about why secrecy was bad for a liberal democracy. Instead, I found that Mr Eisler does not like a constitutional government and certainly not one that defends itself.




Enhanced by Zemanta
Posted in censorship, Government, justice, philosophy | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment