Free Advice on the Brewing Cyber Wars
by Robert Murphy
As thousands joined in the Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks on Mastercard et al., the first full-scale cyber war (or “Internet War”) had begun. I have already expressed my concern (here and here) that the boycotters of Amazon hadn’t provided a compelling justification for their strategy. In the present article, I’ll offer some general observations that I hope will help libertarians and antiwar activists to organize their thoughts as the conflict escalates.
* Amazon, MasterCard, et al. have not been torturing prisoners or bombing civilians; the U.S. government has. At best, these companies capitulated to very real threats from the government, and at worst they cut a deal to remove an earlier threat that had been hanging over them. I personally cannot judge them too harshly, since I may very well have done the same (though I would have needed to be waterboarded before issuing the press release that Amazon gave). Now I understand that some very committed antiwar activists would have gone to jail under similar circumstances, but they are in the minority. It is one thing to say you will stand up to the government; it’s something else entirely when an actual senator is on the phone.
* A silly Star Wars analogy may help: The boycotters presumably liken Amazon to Lando Calrissian, who sold out his friend Han Solo in a deal with the Empire. But this isn’t at all accurate. Amazon didn’t deliver Assange over to the authorities; his jilted lovers did. Amazon’s “betrayal” merely meant that the WikiLeaks site was down for a few hours, and all Amazon did was end its business relationship with the pariah organization. It would be as if the Millennium Falcon needed to refuel, and the first planet they stopped at told them to keep moving because they were on Vader’s blacklist. Now if that had happened in the movie, and then after hitting the next depot (three hours away) the rebels circled back and starting firing on the first place for not selling them fuel, the audience would have been quite perplexed. That’s not what the good guys do. The good guys study the schematics of the Death Star; they don’t figure out which groups of non-combatants they should punish next for not joining the rebellion.
* If you allow yourself to become outraged when someone fails to martyr himself, you have condemned yourself to a life of constant bitterness and disappointment. You will be much healthier – and much more able to further the causes you cherish – if you simply acknowledge that most people will not stick their necks out if it will put their careers or families in immediate jeopardy. Better to accept that basic fact, and build your plans around it.
* It is better to herald heroism than condemn cowardice. Positive reinforcement is more productive – and more likely to recruit others – than punishment.
* If your proposed strategy requires the statement, “We’re at war!” to justify it, it is probably a very bad idea.
* If you want peace, then you should renounce threats, property destruction, and of course violence. Those are the techniques of the government.
* The world is very complex, with billions of people reacting to each other. It is impossible to predict all of the ramifications of our actions. That’s why moral rules are so important. If we set out to do things “for the greater good,” believing that the ends justify the means, we may realize to our horror that we have ushered in great evils.
* The American empire of military occupation and surveillance ultimately rests on American public opinion. I am ashamed to say that I once was, what we would now call, a “neo-con” (though the term was not in usage at the time). But as I delved deeper into the works of Austrian economists and Old Right conservatives, I realized my intellectual confusion. It made no sense to oppose the welfare state and government meddling in the domestic economy, while supporting the trillions the U.S. government spent on foreign adventures. Since I personally was convinced of the poverty of militarism, I know that others can be likewise converted.
* Disrupting commercial operations, let alone engaging in physical property destruction, will not recruit more Americans to our point of view. Someone who gets his news about Assange from Sean Hannity will not be goaded into reading Glenn Greenwald when he can’t buy his Christmas presents after Amazon’s site crashes. On the contrary, he will despise the “America-hating commies” behind the attacks even more, and will applaud the government’s crackdown on the Internet to “keep him safe” from further acts of cyber-terrorism.
* The truth is on our side. That is why WikiLeaks poses such a threat to the ruling class; they scurry like cockroaches from the light. Those who desire peace need not resort to hostility and aggression. They simply need to bravely speak the truth.
* In the long run, the truth will out. Good will eventually triumph over evil.
December 13, 2010