My Telekommunisten colleague Baruch Gottlieb wrote an excellent, considered response to Bruce Schneier’s recent essay, “The Internet is a Surveillance State.” While Baruch shares Schneier’s concerns about the increasing prevalence of surveillance on the internet, the focus of Baruch’s response is to investigate the political and economic origin of this. Baruch explains that although Schneier is certainly right about this state of affairs, he misses the mark on the political aspects of it.
Acknowledging the essay, Schneier posts a somewhat unusual reply:
“This Communist commentary seems to be mostly semantic drivel, but parts of it are interesting. The author doesn’t seem to have a problem with State surveillance, but he thinks the incentives that cause businesses to use the same tools should be revisited. This seems just as wrong-headed as the Libertarians who have no problem with corporations using surveillance tools, but don’t want governments to use them.”
Now, if Baruch wishes to comment on this, he will, so I’m not going to engage to much with either Schneier’s essay, or Baruch’s response to it, rather I would like to comment on what is implied in Schneier’s response above.
First of all, it should be obvious that the second part of the comment, claiming that Gottlieb is somehow a champion of State surveillance, is very obviously a straw man argument, which Schneier enthusiastically tears down with an irrelevant dismissal of “Libertarians.” A red herring.
And yet, remarkably, these are not the only logical fallacies in this short paragraph, for Bruce also deploys a tidy out-of-hand dismissal, using the term “semantic drivel,” and while not explicit, even the label “Communist” appears to be imply a guilt by association. So, a straw man, a red herring, an out of hand dismissal and perhaps an ad hominem, all in just a few sentences!
I don’t want to single Schneier out here, Bruce is a brilliant and insightful commentator and analyst. Who among us has not blustered on occasion when we’ve felt indignation?
What’s interesting to me is the source of the indignation.
What is causing Schneier to act-out in this fashion? I suppose the answer lies in the fact that despite the fallacious dismissals, Schneier notes that “parts of it are interesting.” This communist semantic drivel has some good parts! Something stuck a chord.
I’ve never met Bruce, but when smart people are overcome with indignation and bluster, it’s usually because they feel threatened. They feel unsure, and this feeling makes them defensive, makes them lash out.
I don’t believe that Bruce is threatened by Baruch’s response itself. But rather, there is something in it which challenges, his world view, and his sense of place in the world.
Baruch’s essay recalls Schneier’s closing comments, as a point of departure: “Welcome to an Internet without privacy, and we’ve ended up here with hardly a fight.”
Baruch, citing EFF, The Open Rights Group, and others, notes that we certainly have fought! You can add many others to that list, including Schneier himself. We have fought! We have fought and lost.
In order to understand the reasons we have fought and lost, you need to address the structure of wealth and power in our capitalist society, which is what Baruch tries to do, and I wont expand on that here, it’s all there in his essay.
Schneier, perhaps, is not quite as ready to admit we’ve lost, that he himself has lost. This might explain the amnesia, refusing to remember the fight at all.
I hope his indignation is a sign his amnesia is passing, and he’ll soon be ready to confront the true cause of his disappointment with what the Internet has become. Once the initial revulsion and indignation passes, he may realize that the antagonist he is searching for is capitalism, not the laziness, stupidity or apathy of “we,” the masses, who supposedly neglected to fight, or the critical “semantics” of communists.
The problems he so expertly describes result from the profit motive itself.