The government: because censoring Bad Things can make them go away
So, first things first. While I can't promise that its completion will mark a return to my blogging—which is always, at best, sporadic—I have successfully finished my NaNoWriMo project. It's a short novel of around 50,000 words, and it concerns the attempts by a small handful of people trying to escape to Mars in the aftermath of nuclear war. In tone I would say it falls somewhere between "Sympathy for the Devil" and "The Long and Winding Road," so it is something of a return to form for me. I'll post it up at FurRag, in all likelihood, before I manage to get it posted here.

Now, on to the main topic for today. 

The recent disclosure of sensitive diplomatic cables by the group Wikileaks has created some controversy. On a practical level, this is completely irrelevant: removing information from the Internet is like removing the sugar from an already-baked cake. The government's attempt to censor this information, first by pressuring Wikileaks' hosts and then by preventing their employees from accessing the website, is essentially futile. Nor will it be possible to stop future such releases. There are already competing websites, as well as plans for new ones—at least one of which will be run by emigrants from Wikileaks. For his part, Julian Assange claims he has a great deal of additional information yet to be disclosed, which will no doubt spark this debate once more.

Where you stand on the issue is at least partly generational. Having grown up in an era of Google and Facebook, we're used to treating privacy as a commodity, not a right. Further, having seen so many exposés and having lost so much faith in our government, we're also used to demanding transparency. We've been told that the government needs to be able to keep things secret to protect its foreign agents and keep us safe; we discover that it also—or instead—keeps secret experiments on American citizens, extraordinary renditions, and things of that nature.

This isn't an old argument, and the case can certainly be made that secrecy is fundamentally antithetical to the democratic process. The Internet, however, has made this much easier, and I venture to say that an Internet generation, who is used to seeing things happen in the open and in real time, is not sold much by the notion that diplomacy has to entail skulking about in the shadows. But that's not really my point. My point is that groups like Wikileaks are unstoppable, and arguing about whether or how to stop them is completely beside the point. Whether they are right or wrong, they are not going away.

This makes the government's handwringing about our poor, compromised diplomatic process and the hyperbole of "piracy is killing [ ]" groups like the RIAA two sides of the same coin: antiquated entities unable to cope with a changing world and responding in the only way they know how: brute force. The real issue, and one that I admit I don't see an answer for, is that there is going to be collateral damage—whether it's people like Assange or his sources, whether it's reprisals visited on our allies, whether it's the people ruined by IP lawsuits. I'm not sure what the best way is to ensure a soft landing.

One thing is for certain, however. Responding to a changing environment by refusing to acknowledge it or trying to stuff the genie back in the bottle is a losing, futile, and self-destructive battle. It didn't work for the Japanese, trying to pretend that gunpowder might just go away. It didn't work for the Soviets, who apparently thought democracy was a fad that would blow over eventually. It didn't work for the Luddites, it hasn't worked for the RIAA, and it won't work for the State Department. But they're going to try, damn it, and people are going to suffer as a result. Such is our brave new world.

In related news (of course), I'll be giving a panel on the Creative Commons, copyleft, and other such things at Further Confusion next year. It's an ad-hoc panel, and I will not be able to provide you with information on its location or time until fairly soon before the actual event. The best source for information is liable to be my Twitter feed, @osakimandias.
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