"Absolute power corrupts absolutely," said Lord Acton to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887.
Knowing this basic fact about human nature is what has prompted centuries of attempts at the separation of power in governments all over the world. America's Constitution, our rule of law, is devised around this simple premise, a secular appeal to the better angels of our nature before those angels are ever called to action.
This brings me to the Occupy movement. And Wikileaks. And the hacker group known as Anonymous.
It may come as a surprise to the one or two readers of my blog (who know full well that I support a great many of the Occupy causes) that as a technology consultant, I've taken to calling certain factions in these groups, and others like them, the Hackocracy.
So, what's the problem? What happens when those challenging power becomes the power they so despise?
The problem is not the overarching message of discontent with the ungrateful and myopic "Haves" by the "Have-Nots," "Don't-Wants," and "Never-Wills." What I have a problem with is the consequences of their method. If there is to be a revolution, it needs to be by the citizen-centered standards of the one started in 1776, not like that "other one," fought largely with a guillotine and wearing a dystopian-esque Guy Fawkes mask.
First, for what it's worth, many in the movement are misguided in their hatred of capitalism. It is quite clear, and overwhelmingly obvious that there is no true freedom without the freedom afforded by the free methods of industry.* But I digress. The real problem, what frightens me most, is the unimaginable corruption that can only result of the kind of technological power that lies in the hands of so few.
The Hackocracy and Absolute Technological Power
For over a century, the disjointed pedagogical disciplines of America have been (and still are) designed to turn out either of the following; rural simpletons of basic mathematics and literacy, city and suburbanite bean-counting widgets of business and industry, and in either case, rote bachelors and masters of test taking. To rise above it all takes a particular kind deliberate, polymathic energy, and/or a whole lot of money.
Lost in the fray is what many in education and philosophy simply call critical thinking skills, or logic and reason. Layered over this culture-threatening oversight is a haze of technological and historical illiteracy that is now coming to a head.
The offspring of this inadequacy to face the new reality is that most of the citizens of the world do not have the tools nor the accumulated intellectual capacity to comprehend what is coming, most less combat it (I know this because I spend every day cleaning downloaders, keyloggers, and Trojan horses off of their computers for $99 a pop).
The fix is easy. First, make technological literacy a priority in the education of our children, so at the very least, they can understand what's happening when it does. And second, simply design intelligent laws and networks that properly regulate the Internet like any other form of industry, while still affording the end-user their participatory culture, privacy, and harmless freedoms.
Considering the consequences of doing nothing, I hardly think that giving up one's ability to hack someone else's property (intellectual or otherwise) should even be entertained.
For most of human history, anarchy has largely been powerless for extended periods time, but this isn't human history, this is now. The world now runs on bits of 1's and 0's in ways that billions of people have no clue, yet affects those same billions every second of every day.
The Internet is no longer simply a military experiment or child's play thing. It is an integral part of the well being of our 21st Century global culture, global economy, and global security. For this reason, John Stuart Mill's Harm Principle is in order, "The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others."
In the end, unfettered technology in the hands of government and business, at least hampered by the rule of law, is kind of like a creepy uncle, but unconstrained technology in the hands of hackers like Anonymous is the possibly the surprising source of Big Brother many have come to fear.
After all, what scares you more? The enemy you can see, or the enemy, which cannot be named?
*What qualifies now as well being has never been as high a standard in human history as it is today. For evidence, think on this the next time you bathe in what is otherwise considered perfectly good drinking water. But it's not capitalism alone that makes bathing in perfectly clean drinking water possible. It's the rule of law - keeping the game fair - that makes the general increase in well being over the centuries as broadly applicable to everyone as it is (And, of course, clean drinking water standards).