Understanding the Net’s disruption of the Power of Narrative, in historical context

Understanding the Net’s disruption of the Power of Narrative, in historical context
By Rick Falkvinge

The greatest power you can hold in any society is the Power of Narrative – the position where other people turn to you to find out what’s true and what’s false, and to interpret the events around us. The Internet completely upends the previous holders of this power, and a lot of the conflict on the net can be traced back to this power – specifically the transition of this power.

To understand how important this is, you can try asking a friend this hypothetical question: if they got to write the news for a week, and everybody would accept what was claimed in those news as unquestionable and complete truth, what would they write?

Those who think in terms of exploiting the situation come up with the idea of writing they’re rich, they’ve got attractive property, that they’re desirable personally, et cetera. This is missing the point by a wide margin.

If you’re control of what’s true and false, you don’t need money. Or anything else, ever again. You have a position where you can make the entirety of humanity want to supply your every need on a whim. You can choose to be a demigod among men – and that’s exactly how this power has been traditionally used, or abused.

We call this power to hold the Power of Narrative.

Let’s illustrate what happens in transitions of this power. In the 14th century, books in Europe were copied laboriously by hand, by monks and nuns in monasteries. This meant the Catholic Church had an absolute control over what books existed, and of course, all of them were in Latin.

The printing press of 1453 broke this, though it wasn’t apparent at first. It took a clergyman named Martin Luther to start protesting abuse of the Power of Narrative – specifically, the detail where the Catholic Church claimed they had the ability to forgive sins in exchange for sums of money. This detail is what the history books tend to focus on, but the larger picture is the ability to claim something like that unverifiably in the first place.

Remember, the Bible was in Latin. It only existed in Latin. And only the clergy could read Latin, and therefore, tell the masses what the Bible said. This is exactly the power imagined earlier in this article – the ability to say anything and have it taken for unquestionably true.

So the real shocker came with the so-called Gutenberg Bibles, bibles printed by the cartload in French and German, that started appearing in the streets. At this point, the Catholic Church completely panicked, because all of a sudden, people could read and verify the claims made. The church was no longer needed to read the Bible in Latin. This meant that the Church had lost the ability to interpret the text to its own advantage.

This led to 200 years of civil war across the entire known world – the so-called “religious wars” – as the power of narrative transitioned multiple times.

So why did printing the Bible in a different language, a common language, lead to two centuries of civil war? Because the Church had lost a gatekeeper position over humanity’s knowledge and culture.

Using these technologies was increasingly repressed, with increasingly harsh penalties, until they hit the capital punishment. Yes, using a printing press at all – making an unauthorized copy – was punished by death in a law enacted in France on January 13, 1535. The official justification was to “prevent the spread of dangerous ideas”.

Now… does any of this feel familiar with regard to today’s situation with the Internet’s disruption of the old guard?

This is the perspective that needs to be applied when authorities demand the right to inspect what people are talking about, to determine what ideas are coming whence and going whither. To identify people who are spreading dangerous ideas – whatever that means to the current powers that be. To restrict the information flow to and from various sites and people where the ideas are becoming too challenging.

“The record labels aren’t really afraid of you putting their music on YouTube. They’re afraid of you putting YOUR music on YouTube, without having to ever ask their permission”, as a colleague nicely illustrated.

The copyright industry is a small player in this transition. They’re just the first skirmish – the tutorial level, if you like. Politicians don’t care about what music is being played – but they do care if they can’t control finances (bitcoin) and the newsflow.

This is why every small effort to save the ongoing decentralization of ideas matters. That’s a reason every struggle for privacy is important (not the only reason, but still). That’s why the Internet must be defended. This is why governments must be kept out of our computers, devices, and phones, and why we must defend encryption.

Let’s hope this transition of the Power of Narrative can be done more orderly than 200 years of civil war.

Privacy remains your own responsibility.

The post Understanding the Net’s disruption of the Power of Narrative, in historical context appeared first on Privacy Online News.

February 21, 2016 at 06:34PM
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