Sunday, March 11, 2012

When fear sets the agenda

To summarize: I am afraid of what the state and its institutions will do. [Name] is afraid of her peers. From this follows that I try to protect ordinary people from the state, and she tries to protect herself and the state from ordinary people.

So wrote one of my friends a while ago, as a result of a rather heated discussion he found himself in. Which got me thinking. Mostly because this simple yet important distinction puts into perspective why the various pirate movements (of the political variety) really haven't made that much of an impact yet.

To put it bluntly: those who are afraid of their neighbors are not overly interested in what an abstract state apparatus might potentially do in the future, unless it helps them to protect themselves from the more brutally concrete in the present.

This is somewhat more tangible than the classic analysis: that the pirate line of reasoning is too abstract in general. It also (and more importantly) explains how and why, and gives a direct indication of what the next step should be: to take modernity at face value.

The increased individualization, the increased alienation between people, the increased loneliness in contemporary society - these are not insubstantial questions. These are things people walk around and live with - feel - every day. It's one of the most present and tangible feelings that modernity has brought with it, and also one of the most widespread.

People of the advertising profession know this, of course, and that is why most of the advertising you stumble upon happens to be about different ways to be socially successful. See a need, fill a need.

Now, if one is a child of the present and don't interact that very much with the people living nearby, it is easy to feel a certain alienation towards them. One does not know them, after all. Don't know who they are, what they think or what they might do when they are left to their own devices.

Note that word, devices.

You may have noticed the ever increasing number of devices watching over us, everywhere. Those are the opposite of the strangers devices - they are there to protect us, from them. We may use words such as "terrorists", "pedophiles" or "criminals", but when push comes to shove it's other people who are the big threat. It's not animals or extraterrestrials we are talking about, after all, and it would be rather absurd to say that all the new surveillance is put in place to protect us from such non-humans.

It's about people. It was always about people.

The metaproblem is of course that you don't become less scared because of the presence of so called "security". It only serves to reinforce the feeling that there is a reason to be afraid - that people are dangerous, and that there is a real need for protection. More cameras, more police, more devices, tougher measures.  Which only serves to reinforce that fear of people even further - and the vicious circle continues.

And when the internet is brought up, and its inherent ability to connect people with each other - fear happens. Terrorists/pedophiles/criminals can talk to each other, and coordinate their vile efforts! The internet is dangerous, and can't be left to its own devices!

When you are afraid of people, the ability to coordinate people is a scary thing indeed.

Seen in this light, it is not all that strange that the sometimes rather extravagant praises to the internet raised by me and my fellow pirates seem very strange to people. Out of place, out of context, and brutally beside any point worth making. Because we don't fear the same things.

Where we see a radically new potential for people to collaborate for the common good (Wikipedia springs to mind), they see new potential ways for people to hurt them. And where we worry about the misuse of power that the expanded security apparatus enables, they see something that just might make them breathe a little bit easier.

Who knows what people do when left to their own devices?

The metaproblem is, again, that you can't ease the fear of other people by building higher walls against them. In fact, they become even more frightening the further away they seem to be, and each layer of extra protection removes more opportunity to get to know them. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy, a vicious circle that gets harder to break because of its drab everyday reoccurrence.

Just take a quick look at the news and look at how violent the world looks through their filter. Is it any wonder that people are scared?

And is it any wonder that the one argument that makes people listen about the over criminalization of file sharing youths - is the fact that the police have limited resources, that is better spent on "real" criminals? It is not the systemic fears that gets the time of day - it's the personal ones.

It's about people. It was always about people.

There is no small irony in that I once joined the pirate movement because of a fear that an ever increasing security state never would leave me alone. Now, I am so very rarely alone, and in the ever present company of the good people of the world - I am able to do my thing. In the company of and with the help of many good people. Which, should anything happen, are ready to help in any way they can - and that in itself is more than enough to make me feel a little less scared. A lot less scared, in fact.

I am still hopeful that when the ambient blues of the television screen is replaced by the more dynamic experience of the computer, the modern fear and loneliness will be alleviated. Not made obsolete - that would be impossible, after all - but be made into something that reached its peak in the early twenty first century, and then receded. That one day, we will have become so connected over the borders between people that they don't appear as frightening as they once did.

Why are we all so afraid of each other?

No, really. Why?

Originally published January 15, 2012

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