Posts tagged Paul Darnell
Posts tagged Paul Darnell
Privilege is a set of benefits bestowed upon members of a society via the society’s hierarchical structure and subsequent laws and norms. Two things should be noted in this definition: that benefits are bestowed, meaning that they come from a source external to the recipient of said benefits, and that privilege is a direct result of social hierarchy and subsequent norms. These two notions are important in noting who is privileged and how they came to be so.
Established, institutionalized societal hierarchy determines who is privileged in a given society. As with all social constructions, one cannot “earn” privilege nor “deserve” the privilege one has. Similarly, the non-privileged are not so simply because they have not earned it. Aside from the most extreme cases, in which an action has consequences that result in changes on a societal scale, one’s actions are irrelevant to one’s privilege. The very functioning and underlying ideology of a society is what bestows privilege. Privilege, hierarchy, authority, and inequality are all innately linked, none of them can exist without the others.
Hierarchy is a specific structure that denotes inequities. It is, in essence, inequality. For this inequality to have any meaning, there must be tangible real world benefits for those who are in the “above” category of the hierarchy, which those “below” cannot attain, at least not without first rising in the hierarchy. It is these potentially unattainable benefits which make up privilege. Those who have privilege only do so due to the inequalities existing in the society to which they belong as a result of the societal hierarchy.
In the United States, and arguably Western society in general, rich, white, male, Christian, able-bodied, heterosexuals are at the top of the hierarchy. While it takes all of these identities to be at the top of the hierarchy, and subsequently have the most privilege, belonging to any of these groups bestows one with a certain amount of privilege. Simultaneously, all those not part of these groups lack privilege in some form. Again, this placement is largely irrelevant to one’s actions. This is important to remember as this often makes privilege invisible, especially to those who have it.
It is detrimental for the privileged to be unaware of their beneficial status as they can then begin to mistake their benefits as having come from their own actions. In truth it is how they are perceived by society at large and the subsequent actions taken by society that has shaped their lives. This misunderstanding is concentrated in those who have the most privilege and, by definition, the most power. The combination of power and their inability to perceive their elite statuses in society leads to faulty and fallacious uses of said power.
A useful framing scenario is the ongoing legal status of affirmative action. Some opponents claim that affirmative action does not level the playing field, it marginalizes the group that does not benefit from affirmative action. This is not true as affirmative action does not, and cannot, remove the privilege that is bestowed upon the majority group, which necessitated affirmative action in the first place. It merely attempts to reduce the detrimental effects of the lack of privilege upon marginalized groups. Affirmative action cannot change the fact that, in this society, being White carries with it the privilege of having significantly easier access to a primary education that fully prepares one for college, and the money to pay for it if/when one gets accepted. Affirmative action, of any kind, cannot remove the hierarchy and societal norms that make it necessary and as such cannot remove the privilege, or lack there of, which it is mean to counter.
Noted linguistics professor and leftist social thinker Noam Chomsky notes,
“Responsibility I believe accrues through privilege. People like you and me have an unbelievable amount of privilege and therefore we have a huge amount of responsibility. We live in free societies where we are not afraid of the police; we have extraordinary wealth available to us by global standards. If you have those things, then you have the kind of responsibility that a person does not have if he or she is slaving seventy hours a week to put food on the table; a responsibility at the very least to inform yourself about power. Beyond that, it is a question of whether you believe in moral certainties or not.”
This illustrates the real life practical advantages privilege brings and the freedom that it allows, although it bare scratches the surface of the consequences.
Engineer and executive chairman of Google Eric Schmidt once said, “The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn’t understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had”. While Schmidt likely meant this in a negative connotation, the statement rings true. The Internet is not entirely without regulation by government entities, but compared to the rest of society the amount of authoritative interference in its general operation and the activities of those using the internet is hugely disproportionate its level of use and importance to governments and their institutions, corporate entities, and everyday people. This lack of authority, or at least stringently enforced authority, makes the Internet a place of unparalleled freedom in a world increasingly constrained by the rules, laws, and general wills of those in power. However, the deepest extent of said liberty requires knowledge of computer science and the workings of the Internet that are unknown to the average person, but here is where the true power of the Internet shines, the free, or relatively free, flowing of information. This very same information is readily available to anyone who seeks to find it. One must simply type the correct search phrase into Google to come upon numerous tutorials, ranging from text files to YouTube videos to podcasts of Harvard computer science classes, detailing the vagaries of computer science and the inner workings of the Internet itself. There are few, if any, other stores of so much knowledge that are so easily accessed. It is here in this free exchange of knowledge, information, and opinion that the key to the Internet’s power lays, and by no means does this freedom extend only to computer science.
This freedom, in combination with the anonymity provided by the Internet, was initially used mostly by people posting comments on imageboard sites and videos. Soon however people began to see the potential for the absolute free sharing of ideas to challenge entities normally too powerful to so overtly speak out against without some form of retaliation. The lack of government and corporate authority on the Internet equates to a lack, or limitation, of the influence these entities have on the Internet and its users. Under the protection of anonymity provided by usernames and proxies, people can say almost anything they please without having to fear major retaliation. No arrests, no torture, no social exclusion, nothing to fear. Equipped with the right amount of computer savvy any person or group can be virtually equal to any government or corporate entity, with few exceptions.
One of the first prominent examples of this was Project Chanology, a massive protest against the Church of Scientology by anonymous internet users, the vast majority of whom were regulars of the imageboard 4Chan. As most of its users posted anonymously, 4Chan had become the prototype for Anonymous. Users frequently acted together anonymously, albeit for pranks, but this ability for people from virtually anywhere in the world to quickly, easily, and anonymously band together for a common cause has been put to new and noteworthy uses. In December 2010, the whistleblower website WikiLeaks, which publishes submissions of secret and classified media from anonymous sources and relies on donations to function, was under intense pressure to cease its activities by the US government. When WikiLeaks ignored the calls or its silence, corporations such as Amazon, PayPal, BankAmerica, PostFinance, MasterCard, and Visa ceased to allow donations to be made to the website. In response, Anonymous, working under the name Operation Payback, launched DDoS attacks against these companies, and the Swedish Prosecution Authority. On December 8th a coordinated DDoS attack brought down the Visa and MasterCard websites. The next day PayPal, whom had also suffered minor shutdowns as a result of Operation Payback, announced that they would release all of the funds that had been collected for WikiLeaks in the account of the Wau Holland Foundation, but would not reactivate the account. On the same day a 16 year old male, an IRC operatior under the screen name Jeroenz0r, was arrested in The Hague, Netherlands in connection with the attacks on MasterCard and PayPal. This was not the only police action taken against suspected members of Operation Payback. In late December the FBI began to raid suspected participants. Nor was this the last actions of the Operation itself. In early 2011 Operation Payback brought down Zimbabwean government sites after the Zimbabwean President’s wife sued a newspaper of 15 million USD for publishing a WikiLeaks document that linked her with the trade of illicit diamonds. On January 27 five males between the ages of 15 and 26 were arrested in early morning raids in the UK on suspicion of involvement. But while authorities may catch a few members of an online group, it is hopeless to attempt to catch them all. over the past few years Anonymous has been largely immune to international repression, actively promoting freedom, especially freedom of speech through online and offline protests and direct action.
Anonymous’ direct action most often takes place in the form of hacking the websites of organizations, both government and corporate, that they deems to be oppressive. This act of hacking as a form of direct action has been labeled hacktivism. The very same forces that allow Anon to be such a significant force also apply to hacktivism. Unlike most other forms of political protest, hacktivism can traverse boarders, rarely if ever puts the hacker in immediate danger, has the capacity to allow an individual or small group to make a significant impact, and of course more readily protects one’s anonymity. The actions are limited only by the hacker’s skill and the limits of their software. The most common forms of hacktivism are the defacing of websites, denial of service attacks, and anonymous blogging. Other more complex forms include the creation of software or websites whose specific function or goal is to further freedom. Examples include the WikiLeaks website and the encryption software PGP, which plays a huge part in maintaining the anonymity of internet users. While Anon may currently be at the forefront of hactivist activities, it was not the start of hacktivism. The first documented instance of hacktivism was the defacing of government websites in October of 1989. DOE, HEPNET and SPAN (NASA) connected VMS machines world wide were penetrated by the anti-nuclear WANK worm. WANK stands for Worms Against Nuclear Killers, worms are malicious software that self-replicate and spread inside the target system. The websites had their login screen changed to display:
This political defacement of websites is bears similarity to the spray-painted political messages on buildings.
There is some controversy surrounding hacktivism as some link it to cyberterrorism, but one must always remember that what is terrorism to some is freedom to others. Those who raided plantations in the US in the antebellum south with the intention of freeing slaves were considered terrorists by many of at that time, despite such a notion being repulsive to many today. Whether one views Anonymous and its hacktivist activities to be positive or negative, one cannot deny the potential power of such ideas and actions. As government and corporate entities begin to work toward “securing” the Internet and limiting the freedom it now provides, it is best to be skeptical. Be watchful for this being done under the guise of “protecting children” or “keeping your personal information safe”. While there are real risks to the internet, hackers have always shown that government controls inevitably affect the general population more than those the computer savvy individuals they were intended to target. With its immense potential to change the way our democracy functions, to make the internet into yet another realm where we choose control and security over freedom would be a travesty.
On March 10, 2011, Wisconsin lawmakers headed by Republican Governor, Scott Walker, and, by association, the Republican Party, made a direct assault upon the working class by voting to pass a union busting bill that strips workers of their collective bargaining rights. While they attempt to justify their actions with the balancing the state budget, the passing of this bill strikes a blow against the working class of Wisconsin, preventing them from effectively fighting for their rights. The passing of the bill also sets a dangerous precedent that lawmakers in other states are using to forward a platform of union busting legislation. An article on the bill’s passing in the Huffington Post describes the potential spread of this disturbing oppressive trend.
“Walker’s plan has touched off a national debate over labor rights for public employees and its implementation would be a key victory for Republicans, many of whom have targeted unions amid efforts to slash government spending. Similar bargaining restrictions are making their way through Ohio’s Legislature and several other states are debating measures to curb union rights in smaller doses.”
It seems as though this may be the first of many clashes between the working class and the pro-corporate, if not outrightly corporate-controlled, US government. This must be stopped NOW. The battle is not lost until the people give up fighting. Workers must unite, regardless of what lies lawmakers sign off on.
Collective bargaining rights are one of the few things standing between the working class and complete oppressive rule by corporate or government entities. While our political system aspires to a democracy, our economic structure operates as a dictatorship. The average individual worker has no say about the condition in which they work and the compensation they receive. At best, their grievances and requests are tossed in a box and ignored with numerous others. At worst, workers can be punished for voicing their opinions. Only together can workers pose a significant threat to the profits so incessantly sought by the rich elite and demand humane working conditions and compensation equitable to their labor. Individuals can be fired and replaced, it is much more difficult, however, to replace the entirety of a workforce. Not only are there more people to replace, but a significant ideological message would be sent by a corporation or government entity tossing all of its employees aside in the name of profit. Even more threatening than the specific things, like pension, lost in the passing of the Wisconsin bill, is the foundational platform created, from which future anti-union and anti-working class campaigns can be waged. The key to preventing this oppression from spreading from Wisconsin is in the name itself, unity. Workers, all workers, regardless of industry or other forms of social division, i.e. race, gender, etc., must band together to protect themselves against oppression from the rich few.
One of the most effective tactics used to bust unions is the dissemination of anti-union propaganda, creating a false sense of hostility and conflict between union and non-union workers and the unemployed. Unions gain no benefit from any member of the working class being oppressed, whether they are employed at the time or not. Similarly no individual member of the working class can ultimately benefit from being anti-union, as they are attacking one the few entities in this society that seeks to allow them to be heard. The key to this issue is for all working class people to realize their mutual stake in the battle for collective bargaining rights. While there is no denying that significant conflicts arise between union workers and the rest of the working class, this conflict is a false product of the oppressive capitalist system’s misinformation and distortion of fact. The true enemy is not our brothers and sisters in the picket lines fighting for a better life, but the bosses who would deny those same rights to us.
By Paul Darnell