Wikileaks and the limits of protocol

I recently contributed a chapter to the book, Face the Future: Tools for the Modern Media Age. The Internet and Journalism Today. My chapter is called Wikileaks and the limits of protocol and can be downloaded from our research repository. Here’s the abstract.

In this chapter, I reflect on Wikileaks and its use of technology to achieve freedom in capitalist society. Wikileaks represents an avant-garde form of media (i.e. networked, cryptographic), with traditional democratic values: opposing power and seeking the truth. At times, appears broken and half abandoned and at other times, it is clearly operating beyond the level of government efficiency and military intelligence. It has received both high acclaim and severe criticism from human rights organisations, the mainstream media and governments. It is a really existing threat to traditional forms of power and control yet, I suggest, it is fundamentally restrained by liberal ideology of freedom and democracy and the protocological limits of cybernetic capitalism.

Non-profit media and Life after capitalism: Two talks by American activist and social critic, Michael Albert, at University of Lincoln

Michael Albert is visiting the university later this month. Below are details of his class and public seminar. I’m looking forward to meeting him. I doubt he’ll remember the few months I spent volunteering as an editor of one of Z-Net’s web pages, back in 2000. I tried to impose standards-based XHTML onto their then, M$ FrontPage ‘driven’ website and lost the battle 😉

Journalism Research Seminar Series, Lincoln School of Journalism

Basics of independent media organisation and production

Seminar room MC 0024, Ground floor MHAC-Building, Brayford Pool Campus, 4-6pm on 27 October, 2010

School of Social Sciences Seminar Series

PARECON – Life After Capitalism

Jackson Lecture Theatre, Ground floor, Main Building, Brayford Pool Campus, 7.30-9.30pm on 27 October, 2010 Talk is open to the public

For further info and speaking dates of Michael Albert in the UK see:

Michael Albert is a longtime political and media activist with a tremendous record. He has authored 15 books and published widely on topics such as radical politics, economics, social change, peace and media. Furthermore, he is known for developing participatory economics (PARECON), an alternative model to capitalism and socialism. He cofounded the Boston (USA) based book publisher South End Press and the independent media platform ZCommunications. Until today, South End Press and Z have published works from renowned authors including Arundhati Roy, Noam Chomsky, John Pilger, Amy Goodman, Dahr Jamail, Robert Fisk, Vandana Shiva, Edward S. Herman and Howard Zinn.

In his first talk, eminent US social critic Michael Albert will reflect on more than 30-years experience working in non-profit, alternative media organisations. The talk will focus on issues such as how to finance non-profit media in a capitalist/market system, how to develop online media and how to structure an organisation to be truly participatory and democratic. Albert will do examine ways of how to cope with economic and political challenges and how students and non-professionals can produce and distribute independent media. The talk will be followed by Q&As.

His second talk (followed by Q&As) will be particularly interesting for everyone seeking a more just and peaceful world. This is what you can expect:

PARECON – Life After Capitalism

Today’s capitalist system has brought with it war, economic crisis, ecological decay, massive wealth inequality, alienation, authoritarianism and social breakdown. Are these problems inevitable, or could they be overcome in a different system? And if so, how? These issues, perhaps for the first time in history, have become a matter of survival.

Michael Albert, co-author of ‘ParEcon: Life After Capitalism’, co-founder of ZCommunications and leading US social activist will present ‘Participatory Economics’, a Vision for a type of democratic economy based on equitable co-operation that is put forward as an alternative to capitalism and also to other 20th century systems that have gone under the label ‘socialism’. It includes new institutions that seek to foster self-management, equity, diversity and solidarity. Parecon is a direct and natural outgrowth of hundreds of years of struggle for economic justice as well as contemporary efforts with their accumulated wisdom and lessons.

Dougald Hine to speak about ‘Technology, Institutions and Education’

Dougald Hine, co-founder of The School of Everything, has been invited by the Centre for Educational Research and Development to talk about his experience in setting up and running The School of Everything. He will be speaking at 3pm on October 13th, MB1010.

The School of Everything is an award winning ‘free school’ for the 21st century, using the Internet to connect people who want to teach with people who want to learn. It’s aim is to allow people to design their own education. In 2010, School of Everything was chosen by Becta and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills as its new platform for adult informal learning in the UK.

Douglad will be speaking informally about how the School of Everything came about and how he sees it connecting to the wider relationship between technology, institutions and education.

I am particularly interested in talk to Dougald about our idea for a Social Science Centre and hope that we can learn from his efforts to engage people in creating their own education. On a different note, I’m also interested in talking to him about his work on The Dark Mountain Project and the role of education in crafting new stories for the future.

A co-operatively run ‘Social Science Centre’

UPDATE (01/02/2011): This idea is now developing into an autonomous Social Science Centre. Click here for the website.

The university has a staff suggestion scheme that rewards good ideas from staff. I’ve just submitted a proposal to the university for help in setting up a Social Science Centre. This is based loosely on an unsuccessful bid to HEFCE that we made a couple of months ago to develop an ‘academic commons’ of sustainable, co-operatively run centres for higher education, somewhat based on the Social Centre model. Initially, as you’ll see below, we’re proposing that courses are run in existing public spaces, with a view to buying or renting a city-centre property further down the line. Attached to this (preferably on the premises) would be some kind of co-operatively run business (I like the idea of a decent bakery – you can’t buy real bread in Lincoln), which would bring in an income to help cover running costs and act as a way to connect with local residents apart from and beyond the educational provision of the Centre.

Anyway, here’s a brief overview of the idea which we’re keen to develop over the next year. If you’re interested and in Lincoln, then a few of us are meeting In Lincoln at 5pm on the 25th September to discuss the practicalities of this idea further. Members of the Cowley Club and Sumac Centre will be there to talk about their experience setting up their respective Social Centres. Email me for more details.

The proposal is that the university support the development of an independent Social Science Centre in Lincoln. The Social Science Centre will offer credit bearing courses in Sociology, Politics and Philosophy, programmes not currently available as part of the University of Lincoln’s portfolio. A key aspect of the Centre is that students would not pay any tuition fees. The Centre would be community based, utilising already existing public spaces in Lincoln, e.g., libraries, museums, schools, community centres. The Centre will be ran as a co-operative, involving local people in the managing and governance of this provision. The courses will be provided by academic members of the co-operative on a voluntary basis. The role of the university will be to provide accreditation for the programmes and an advisory role in establishing the centre as well as an ongoing supportive input. There will be no direct ongoing costs for which the university will be liable. An important principle for the Centre is that it is sustainable and, for that reason, the number of students will not exceed twenty in any academic year. It is intended that this model of sustainable, co-operatively run centres for higher education will act as a catalyst for the creation of other centres for higher education.

Climate change and the language of war

A few posts I read this morning seem to complement each other by showing how inadequate the current political and economic climate (pardon the pun) is for meeting the targets set out in the UK’s Climate Change Act 2008.

It’s not unusual to find reports calling for the need to tackle climate change with the kind of national attention and effort that was mobilised around World War II. A good example is a recent report from the The Royal Academy of Engineering, Generating the Future. A report on UK energy systems fit for 2050. I’ll have more to say about the report in another post, but they join the chorus of experts referring to the Act as “a huge challenge”, arguing that nothing less than our entire manufacturing base needs to shift focus and be “on a war footing”, if we are to meet the targets set out in the Act.

Last night, Ed Milliband was challenged during the Guardian’s Climate Debate over Roger Pielke Jnr. paper which argues that to meet the Climate Change Act’s targets for decarbonisation, the equivalent of 30 nuclear power stations would have to be built before 2015. Pielke’s position is that the Climate Change Act was always doomed to fail and that Milliband or whoever succeeds him will have to face up to it sooner or later.

So given the “huge challenge” (or delusion if you agree with Pielke Jnr.), what would it mean to be “on a war footing” in order to address the targets set out in the Act?

In a post yesterday, Stuart Staniford (one of my favourite energy/environment blogger analysts), notes that in 1943, the UK was spending 55% of GDP on the war. His source, the Cambridge Economic History of Great Britain, states that UK expenditure on the war went from 7% of GDP in 1938, to 53% in 1941, to 55% in 1943. So, in economic terms, that is what being “on a war footing” means. Half of national productivity is mobilised towards a single goal.

However, again in yesterday’s news we find that the UK’s annual deficit is the highest since records began in 1946, or as Edmund Conway in The Telegraph puts it this morning, we’re already experiencing a “war-sized” annual public deficit (overdraft) of £163.4bn (or 11.5% of GDP). Perhaps we should take some comfort in the Guardian’s Data Blog which shows that public debt (the accumulation of deficits) currently stands at 63.6% of GDP, far from the 250% of 1946.

This would suggest that if we are to shift our entire manufacturing base towards decarbonisation, as The Royal Academy of Engineering thinks we should, then Ann Pettiford’s argument for mobilising (I guess that includes educating/training) a “‘carbon army’ of ‘green-collar’ jobs”, through additional borrowing would seem to fit quite nicely into this apparently necessary vision of a ‘war on carbon’ (my phrase). For people working in education, it might be a useful exercise to consider what tertiary education might look like if half of national productivity was directed towards meeting the Climate Change Act, a law that each of us in the UK is bound too, after all.

The problem I have with all of this talk of war and climate change, aside from the hot air and inaction, is along the lines of what George Monbiot, in his book, Heat, has to say on the matter. That is, the enemy is no other than ourselves.

Most environmentalists – and I include myself in this – are hypocrites … I would like to believe that the changes I suggest could be achieved by appealing to people to restrain themselves. But though some environmentalists, undismayed by the failure of the past forty years of campaigning, refuse to see it, self-enforced abstinence alone is a waste of time . . . I have sought to demonstrate that the necessary reduction in carbon emissions is – if difficult – technically and economically possible. I have not demonstrated that it is politically possible. There is a reason for this. It is not up to me to do so. It is up to you . . . The campaign against climate change is an odd one. Unlike almost all the public protests which have preceded it, it is a campaign not for abundance but for austerity. It is a campaign not for more freedom but for less. Strangest of all, it is a campaign not just against other people, but also against ourselves.

I would add though that the enemy is not simply ‘ourselves’ – you, me, us – but capital’s laws of motion that have been turning since the late seventeenth century. We might find some comfort in reading that there is nothing natural about these laws of motion – there are alternatives – yet in another post I read this morning, it looks like the enemy has already won.

Discussing Ivan Illich

In the last couple of months, the one writer that keeps on cropping up in discussion and in my reading is Ivan Illich. Until now, I’ve only ever skimmed his work but I thought that as his work seems to be freely available on the Internet, I’d re-publish them so that other readers, like you, might annotate, comment and discuss his work.

I’ve re-published three essays:

Deschooling Society

Tools for Conviviality

Energy and Equity

An eBook is available for each text, too.