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August 16, 2010

The Usual Suspects (Net Neutrality/Google Edition)

Filed under: Internet Democracy — Tags: , , — Russ @ 8:40 am

 

Anyone who’s written about Obama’s crimes and witnessed the anguish of his disillusioned voters is also familiar with several kinds of Obama hacks and cultists.
 
One type is the troll who says he dislikes Obama but places the blame for his crimes on anyone who voted for him. Indeed, given his sneering contempt for anyone who expresses any version of, “Obama lied to us”, this troll implicitly blames only those who have renouced him while giving his hacks and terminal cultists a free pass. Obama himself always gets a free pass.
 
This is obviously a pernicious way of viewing things. Yes, it’s true that most of Obama’s voters were evidently ignorant about his record, and most have hung on way too long in wanting to give him the benefit of the doubt long after his real nature became clear. In that sense they deserve to be “blamed”. But what purpose does this serve? The voters in a large, centralized representative “democracy” are always going to be relatively ignorant. (Once again we see the lie of “market” ideology, that all participants have all the information they need. Market fundamentalism and representative democracy are the two sides of soft corporate tyranny.) If you support this kind of pseudo-democracy, that’s the kind of voter you want. And if you reject pseudo-democracy, then it’s the system itself you reject, and the incompetence of the voter under such a system is one of the reasons you reject it. Either way you have no basis for blaming the voter. If your contention is that representative democracy necessarily disempowers the voter because of built-in information imbalances and the way special interests manipulate obscure leverage points in the system, then how can you blame the voter for the way the system intentionally renders him incompetent to carry out his duties as a citizen? The system itself has sought to destroy citizenship.
 
It would be wonderful if every individual could be reborn overnight as the heroic citizen of the civics textbooks. But that’s not reality. Citizen democracy, if it’s to arise out of an initially hostile environment and flourish, needs to be nurtured. One aspect of this is 
 
So while this troll either claims to despise Obama or holds aloof from the whole mess, his actions are objectively pro-Obama, pro-system, pro-corporate.
 
On the other hand, we can sympathize with the troll just a little bit when we encounter the idiots still high on “hopium”, still clinging desperately to the delusion that Obama means well but is somehow thwarted from carrying his good intentions to fruition. I guess here we see the terminal flat-earth liberal version of the terminal fascist 20% who still supported Bush at the end of his calamitous reign.
 
Unfortunately, both of these types seem to be endemic to all fronts on the great civil war of citizen democracy against corporate tyranny. This NYT piece on the Google-Verizon coup attempt provides examples of both.
 
The piece recapitulates how the deal would gut net neutrality. The real goal of most anti-neutrality conspiracy is to turn it into a version of the “public option”. The PO of course never existed except on paper, but the term was politicized precisely because it could be applied to anything or nothing. This was done in the expectation that process liberals would focus on the term and never consider the content or lack thereof. This expectation proved to be fully justified.
 
Today we have net neutrality, which has fully existed in concept and reality since the earliest days of the public Internet. The concept and practice have always been clear – carriers cannot discriminate among packets of information; all packets, whether sent between two megacorporations or two obscure and powerless individuals, are equal. Increasing carriage which portends congestion is to be solved by expanding capacity. Only temporary acute congestion could justify temporary, limited, specifically targeted anti-congestion discrimination.
 
That’s net neutrality as it’s always been conceived and done. But the goal today is to subvert this practice and still slap the term “net neutrality” on practices like “paid prioritization” and “managed services” which abrogate the core premise of net neutrality. Thus the Orwellian Google-Verizon deal claims to uphold “net neutrality” even as it would set up a paid VIP lane outside the public Internet, which would then sap all resources from it in favor of the VIPs. Meanwhile wireless carriage would be exempt from even the semblance of non-discrimination.
 
The new propaganda line is that net neutrality is actually a vague, ill-defined ideal no one really understands, and which needs to be clarified today in a way it wasn’t previously clear. So nearly twenty years of practice and principle have clarified nothing; it’s Year Zero, Day One on the Internet frontier, and Google says we need to start as new in asking, “what is this thing, net neutrality?” As we see, the answer they want to impose is that “Paid Discrimination = Net Neutrality”.         
 
The Google-Verizon deal is the attempt to enshrine a version of the basic plan that’s been batted about for a long time now. If the people fall for this, fall for fake “net neutrality”, they’ll lose the real thing, lose Internet democracy, which in turn would be one of the final stages of the destruction of American democracy itself.
 
While Citizens United was more of a symbolic and formal enshrinement than a significant practical change, any new Internet paradigm based on the kind of arrangement Google-Verizon attempts to enshrine would constitute a sea change in practice as well as symbol. This is therefore a far worse gambit of corporate tyranny.
 
And then it’s typical that we’d see this piece assembling the various kinds of pro-corporate talking points seeming to emanate “from outside”, “from below”, “from net neutrality supporters”.
 
First we have the trollish neutrality “supporter” Susan Crawford:
 

“I don’t fault Google and Verizon for striking a deal,” said Susan Crawford, a professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo Law School and a longtime supporter of net neutrality. “A large private company is always going to operate in its own interest, and for anyone to believe otherwise would be naïve.”

Professor Crawford, who is critical of the proposal, said the F.C.C.’s lack of action on access rules pushed Google to seek a compromise. “Google had no choice but to cooperate with the friendliest carrier it can find, which is Verizon,” she said.

 
As many times as I see it I can never understand the logic that if your enemy is acting in his own interest then you’re somehow wrong to blame him for assaulting you.
 
What does the assailant’s interest or intent have to do with anything? I view a mosquito and a corporation in the same way. Both seek (N.B., seek is philosophically the only concept we ever need, not “intend”, “want” etc.) to do us harm. Both must be smashed. From there, morally blaming a malevolent hominid seeker is a tactic of the struggle. To put it in Nietzschean terms, it’s a moral manifestation which is “necessary for life”. That’s the only measure of what we can, should, and must do.
 
So how interesting is it when the first impulse of someone who claims to support the anti-corporatist side of an issue is to defend the corporation? This is an example of that same blame-the-victim troll. Her personal opinion may be to support net neutrality, but her objective trend is to accept whatever the rackets do as the rightful way of the world. Thus we see her already identifying with the power structure and against the stupid “naive” peasants, already caving in and making her peace with the death of net neutrality. Her support for it was therefore really an accident or a whim, but she’s objectively pro-corporatist.
 
Of course the opposite impulse, from those of us who side with the democracy and the people, would be to say, “Google has built its whole brand around ‘Don’t Be Evil’, and it was therefore naive of them to think they could act in clearly evil ways and not generate outrage and protest.”
 
Sure enough, the piece gives an example of how it’s done:
 

But disappointed consumers and advocates seem to be holding Google to a different standard, in large part because of the image it created.

“If the world of business is an ugly world full of rats, they’ve managed to create a bushy tail for themselves and come across as a very, very cute rat with terms like ‘Do no evil,’ ” said Scott Galloway, professor of brand strategy at the Stern School of Business at New York University. “The downside of that is that people have expectations that they’re going to fight these quixotic battles, and the bottom line is their obligation to their shareholders.”

 
So who’s “naive”? Who one chooses to say is the most naive provides a window into one’s objective position, regardless of the whims of personal opinions on policy.
 
Obviously it is subjectively naive to believe a candidate with a neoliberal record when he promises “Change” or any corporation, even in its pre-racket stage, when it vows, “Don’t Be Evil”.
 
But like I said, this is a basic of human nature, and if we’re to have a civilization at all it has to be arranged in a way to help bring out the best of this idealism which can be prone to naivete and prevent the exploitation of it by criminals. By definition a system where top-down systematic lying and manipulation is institutionalized is neither a democracy nor a civilization at all. This is simply a monstrous power imbalance which seeks to destroy all that’s wise and good in any individual and whip up and manipulate all that’s stupid and bad in him. One would have to be a civic hero to hold up to this pressure, as a mere individual, and maintain a high level of integrity. There’s no way the mass can do so.
 
Under these conditions, the conditions of such an imbalance, anyone who in any way sides with the system and against the people (even where the merits of a particular isolated incident might warrant that, if it could ever be possible to take any incident out of context, which it could never be) is acting as an agent of tyranny, regardless of any accidental “opinions”. 
 
And finally we have the moron who says, “No amount of evidence from actions can ever convince me! I know my hero means well, and it’s a Mystery to me how he’s prevented from doing the good and forced to do the evil, but I shall keep faith!”
 

Not all believe that Google has betrayed its principles. Some longtime Silicon Valley chroniclers say they still think Google is trying to do the right thing, not only for itself, but also for the Internet as a whole.

“I would rather have a company like Google that means to do no evil and is struggling with compromises on these hard issues than a company that doesn’t see a struggle,” said Tim O’Reilly, founder and chief executive of the technology publisher O’Reilly Media. “Most companies don’t even see things in those terms.”

 
This kind of thing coming from a powerless Obama supporter is just pathetic and contemptible. Coming from an IT cadre it may be more calculated and tactical (i.e. more treacherous). Either way this paltry way of looking at things again abets the tyrant. Why exactly the supremely powerful and potentially populist Google would need to “compromise” with a loathed, parasitic telecom racket is left a complete mystery. Here we see idealism perverted by enabling its laziness and inertia. You believed and have been disappointed? But surely it’s simpler and easier to keep believing rather than go to the trouble of switching allegiances, let alone actually creating something to believe in out of yourself?
 
In the end that’s what every tyrant and every enabler of tyranny, including the astroturfers and even the self-astroturfed, fears the most: That the people might break free of all the lies and manipulations and build their own world, purged of all criminals.
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