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nettime: re: cyberspace
Pit Schultz on Thu, 21 Mar 96 17:13 MET


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nettime: re: cyberspace


X-List: cyberspace-and-society {AT} mailbase.ac.uk
From: "sasha1 {AT} netcom.com"

  I usually write an essay draft to circulate among widening groups
of people in hope to polish it and bring a well-prepared document
to the world.  This strategy is a bit too taxing; I am not sure I
want to continue spending my precious time and resources contributing
to groups far more affluent than I am.
  So I'll probably start writing rough drafts and launching them,
and not put much work into it until I get paid for it.
(I'll still take feedback though).

  The few thoughts that I would like to share now reflect my observations
of recent organized attempts to rate and restrict information flows,
and John Perry Barlow's "Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace".

  I think all sides of this debate are misguided.
The solution I would like to see would involve:

  - discussing the situation with info/techno development and coming up
    with a reasonably defined concept platform, on which all the sides
    may start real argument.

  - making this platform known (good ideas do not automatically win
    wide recognition in the society driven more by selfish interests
    of existing powers, with little interest in valid paradigms)

  - creating and supporting enabling technologies and social formations
    that can protect and promote interests of all sides and ensure
    reasonable cooperation between them in the areas of common or
    conflicting interests.

Example:

  The Cyberspace freedom declarations usually start with something like
"We citizens of Cyberspace/Electronic world...".

  Sounds like it is coming from uploaded infomorphs.
Actually, there are the same citizens of the same countries communicating
with each other in a slightly new way; the "electronic" and "Digital"
nature of these communications are non-essential.  Waves of air pressure
that carry our voices in the "real" communications are dependent on
electrons to a greater extent than many modern communication links
(especially fiber optics); our DNA is more digital than the computer
signal that is just emulation of digital on analog hardware; all of
these are just non-essential implementation details anyway.
 
  As I see it, territorial governance is there to, well, govern behavior
of people residing on a certain territory.  Territoral government is there
to address most important issues that require explicit and enforceable
social contracts.  What kind of social issues require government and
how they should be resolved is a separate issue.
  While transportation and communications between territorial entities
were not developed, sovereignty and jurisdiction of the governments were
naturally confined to the territorial issues.
  With increasing contacts and fading boundaries between territorial
entities we witness greater and greater role of exterritorial and
non-territorial issues.  They require new forms of governance.

  Let's return to "Cyberspace" and decency issues.  Silly as they are,
they provide good examples for the discussion that can hopefully be
understood by everybody.

  Case 1.  Territorial action.

  If a person and hir dog make their shit or genitals (or symbolic
representations of those) available for viewing to human children
in the same physical area, they should be subject to the same law;
direct representations of forbidden objects seem more offensive;
if mentioning of those object can be punishable by jail terms, then
not flushing the toilet or letting your dog run around with exposed
genitals should be punished by something worse.

  If a mention is made, there is no difference for any party whether
it is handwritten, said, or e-mailed.  So the law should be the same
as well.

   [ I would also like to see some explanations how humans managed to
     become the first species on Earth whose young can be traumatized
     by sights that do not bother any other species, and whether the
     puritan laws have anything to do with this stupid situation ]

   Case 2.  Exterritorial action.

  Supposed a citizen of the chunk of land C1 performs some action
affecting the situation on the chunk of land C2.  Which government
is the judge here?

   Again, there is no difference between C-space and Land-Space here.
There are lots of legal precedents and laws at work whether you
are trying to go from Alabama to New York to perform an abortion,
or going from Sweden to Finland to get drunk or leaving Australia
for Thailand on a sex tour.

   I personally think that it's a good indicator of tyranny when
a government tells you that you can't do something though it doesn't
affect anybody in its jurisdiction and doesn't offend anybody beyond it.

   In any case, the actions should be judged by intentions and effects,
and not implementational details - such as, whether you pushed your
electrons physically or electrically to get this action done.

   Case 3.   Non-territorial action.

 A considerable portion of Net structures, from public-domain software
to default settings of international mailing lists, does not fall into
territorial issues even under very loose interpretations.  There is no
reason to extend the jurisdiction over these issues to the territorial
governments, as they have never been set up for handling them.  There
is also no reason to think that the usual control attempts here, such
as demanding that these new issues should be governed by the same
structures or the same people, can bring any benefit to either of the
sides.

   This seems somewhat analogous to a local Fire Department telling
people how to play with their pets or what music to listen to.
Pets and music, just as Net discussions are not a new space with new
people.  But neither they are social formations that governing bodies
such as Fire Department, Pentagon or White House were designed to control.


   New social structures allow, and require, new forms of social
institutions and governance. And not just "free". [ Why would personal
freedoms be more essential in computer-mediated communications than
they are elsewhere? ]  They have been arising, together with advisory
documents, enabling software, functional governance and mediation,
etc., etc. - including tools designed to protect the emerging domains
from interference of existing powers. This includes anonymous mail and
Web site (Ray Cromwell's current work), PGP, digital cash, steganography,
and some other attempts by a few enthusiasts.

   Unfortunately, the "Cyberspace citizens", despite frequent claims
that they "support" much of this work, actually just wish somebody
did it for them for free - while their income goes to support the
government and local grocery stores.
  One doesn't have to be a great professional to help improve the global
information structures.
Send a little check to those who work to improve your life and protect
your rights on the Net.  It will allow them to spend more time doing
their work.  The Net has lots of powers, but the ability to bring control
over the world to a bunch of whining lazybones is not one of them.


   It is not surprizing that people are confused and scared by the
rapid technological and social progress.  Personal memory augmented
by social experience-sharing does not provide much help in unprecedented
situations.  Governmental control cannot be quick and diverse enough
to direct all emerging technologies, ideas, medicines, foods, conflicts,
etc.
   Fortunately, there are efforts to discuss and develop alternative
social institutions and methods of evaluating social novelties and
distributing the knowledge - digital reputations, collaborative evaluations
of documents, Idea futures markets, and others.
   Unfortunately, they get no support whatsoever. So the extremely valuable 
time is rapidly running out, coercive powers are advancing, citizenry gets
increasingly confused and scared of the avalanche of novelty they are
unable to conceptualize, while people who are able to fix much of it have
to work menial jobs for food.

   I watched this happen once - in the Soviet Union.
It is too late to do much there now: the environment is contaminated,
people are spoiled, brainwashed and nerve-wrecked, most of the new
technologies have been appropriated by the old scums, young would-be
geniuses and visionaries turned into the old could-have-beens...
I am quite sure that the current generation of Russians is going to die
without ever seing decent social order.

  The Western civilization can be one generation away from this situation.
It is not too late yet - if people stop behaving like sheep and start
actually *supporting* the work that they wish to see done.

 [ I spent a few hours typing this up - instead of doing things for myself.
   Was it worth it?  I regret wasting my time and nerves on the Soviet
   regime.  Am I just wasting my time here as well?  I don't know.
   But the situation here is a bit different.  I have nowhere else to go. ]


------------------------------------------------
Alexander Chislenko <sasha1 {AT} netcom.com>
Website: http://www.lucifer.com/~sasha/home.html
- celebrating first million hits!
------------------------------------------------


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