Emotional Revolution me


Not long time ago I was at the table, having dinner with my family in Barcelona. My uncle, a youthful sixty-five year old man, responded to my call for “change in the world” with a “you can’t change people, you may change yourself, and from there people may change, but you can’t change people”. This same thing was said many decades ago by a wise man who changed and keeps changing the world.

Be the change you want to see in the world – Mahatma Ghandi

Change is in ourselves. All starts with an exercise of self-awareness, a self-realisation of our immense possibilities and, yes, our boundaries. From there we can “establish new behavior patterns” to “form habits”. Slowly, gradually we change ourselves. This was reminded to me just a couple of days ago. This is the only real and durable change. People around us will then start to realize their own potential, their own boundaries by seeing our own change. This is a long process, in which patience is important. It is a process not free of pain and suffering on the way, but the rewards are far greater…

Through constant familiarity, we can definitely establish new behavior patterns, using our tendency to form habits to our advantage. If we make a steady effort, I think we can overcome any form of negative conditioning and make positive changes in our lives. But we need to remember that genuine change doesn’t happen overnight. – Dalai Lama

Not long time ago I started my own process of change. I’m right now in it…isn’t the whole world also changing?

Network World

Analysis of Clinton’s Internet Freedom Speech: How to fit Wikileaks into a Briefcase

On February 15, 2011 Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State, delivered his second speech on Internet Freedom or “Internet Rights & Wrongs: Choices and Challenges in a Networked World“. This the first part of a personal analysis of her speech. One, how to fit Wikileaks into a briefcase.

Hillary Clinton:

Fundamentally, the WikiLeaks incident began with an act of theft. Government documents were stolen, just the same as if they had been smuggled out in a briefcase.”

Well, no. It is not the same. The obvious: you don’t need a briefcase to smuggle digital information, that’s the beauty of it. Yes, this sounds so bloody stupid/obvious/clear, but it actually points to an important truth (remember: truth always hides behind obviousness and paradox): information is not “briefcasable” anymore, that is, it flows, it cannot be kept in a drawer or in anything physically encaged. It can be copied and recopied with no cost. The support where information is recorded has changed, the cost of distributing information has changed with it, basically it has dropped to nearly nothing. Therefore, in terms of physical and cognitive effort, disclosing the diplomatic cables is something that anybody could have done, you just need a slight motivational push to do it. This brings the action of doing it to a different level: it’s freaking easy.

So why wouldn’t we do it? Here it is where the words “stolen” and “smuggled” have meaning. We wouldn’t do it because stealing is a bad thing. Only bad guys smuggle. We’re then in the realm of legitimate actions, norms and rules. What’s right and what’s wrong. So let’s ask to ourselves “is disclosing the US diplomatic cables an act of stealing? is it a bad thing?”.

Let’s focus on the act of stealing. In order to say that something’s stolen you need two actors: the thief and the owner of the thing. In the Cablegate case, we apparently have an alleged thief, Bradley Manning. But do we have an owner? Whom were the cables stolen from? The US federal government? the US population/taxpayer? It cannot be just of the first, for anything owned by US federal government is in fact owned by US population, right? So if the owner of the information is the US population and what Manning supposedly did, through Wikileaks, was to release this information to the US population, wasn’t he in fact doing the opposite, giving back to its legitimate owners the property of information that was previously stolen/appropriated by a few for the interests of the few?

Right. Let’s say that he actually didn’t (supposedly) steal it. Was he then doing a right thing by disclosing this information? Not necessarily, for the harm provoked by it could be greater than the good. On the one hand, the good goes from the re-appropriation by the legitimate owners of the information to helping to achieve freedom of information, which for many (including myself) is good in itself, and incidentally saving people’s lives and uncovering corruption (e.g. Tunisian dictator Ben Ali and co. (particularly his wife) abuse of power for personal gain). On the other hand, the bad consequences of disclosure are underlined in Clinton’s speech:

Some have suggested that this theft was justified because governments have a responsibility to conduct all of our work out in the open in the full view of our citizens. I respectfully disagree.

1) The disclosure has broken the necessary confidentiality to protect citizens’ security and the promotion of human rights and democracy

The United States could neither provide for our citizens’ security nor promote the cause of human rights and democracy around the world if we had to make public every step of our efforts. Confidential communication gives our government the opportunity to do work that could not be done otherwise.

Absolutely right, total transparency is a non-sense. As we all know in our private lives, if you start sharing everything (I mean EVERYTHING) you think and do with everybody, you’d probably find yourself in big trouble soon. But is it all the information classified as confidential working for citizens’ security, and promotion of human rights and democracy? As we’ve seen from Wikileaks, clearly not. So who oversees those few that have the power (an amazing power by the way) to know very important things and keeping them for the few (normally well-connected people, friends and family)? They do it themselves! I don’t know much about human nature, but I know this much: let a group of people in charge of someone’s else’s property for indefinite time and tell them that they have total control of it and nobody will know what they do with it, and sooner or later they will start abusing it.

So actually the Wikileaks may have been a good thing. Yes, we should keep some information confidential, but the current system doesn’t work, for it is easily vulnerable to abuse by a few. As it actually is. Cablegate may open the opportunity for a reform towards a different system.

2) Diplomatic cables publication has put people’s lives at risk.

Our diplomats closely collaborate with activists, journalists, and citizens to challenge the misdeeds of oppressive governments. It is dangerous work. By publishing diplomatic cables, WikiLeaks exposed people to even greater risk.

This has been said over and over again. Even the US wrote to Julian Assange warning of the consequences for people’s lives due to the disclosure. But after nearly four months of leaks, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of this risk being real (i.e. harm done to anybody in direct relation to the disclosure). And even if they would putting some people’s lives at risk, there’s still the legitimate question of how many lives the disclosure has actually saved.

I am a firm defender and promoter of freedom of information, disclosure and openness. I, however, understand, as many other do, the necessity of confidentiality or restrictions of this freedom for the protection of a very determined and very reduced number of essential values, namely people’s safety and privacy. Yet, this has to be done under the right guarantees and supervision, not left in the hands of the few for the few. That’s not democracy. That’s what was happening until now in international relations.

Right, Hillary Clinton:

We govern with the consent of the people, and that consent must be informed to be meaningful. So we must be judicious about when we close off our work to the public, and we must review our standards frequently to make sure they are rigorous

The U.S. Government’s ability to protect America, to secure the liberties of our people, and to support the rights and freedoms of others around the world depends on maintaining a balance between what’s public and what should and must remain out of the public domain. The scale should and will always be tipped in favor of openness, but tipping the scale over completely serves no one’s interests.

But as Clary Shirky wittily said in his comment about the cablegate

When authorities can’t get what they want by working within the law, the right answer is not to work outside the law. The right answer is that they can’t get what they want.

Network World Politics

From People’s revolution to Citizens’ revolution: Uprising for a common goal

The Arab world is awakening to a new political era. Times of real democracy and respect for human rights seem to have arrived to a region which seemed condemned to live in the permanent dilemma between secular autocracy or radical Islamic rule. It is too soon to say, but from what I’ve seen from trips, conversations and research about the region, this seems to me a radical change from past experiences. This is neither an Islamic revolution (the deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Rashad al-Bayoumi, said in an interview to the Spiegel “We don’t want this revolution to be portrayed as a revolution of the Muslim Brothers, as an Islamic revolution. This is a popular uprising by all Egyptians”), nor a traditional liberal one. Islamist groups have played a marginal role in the uprising, and no secular political groups or leaders are capitalizing the change. Instead young people from different affiliations, religions and political beliefs coordinated their action under the conviction that their country was in a bad state, it needed to change, and change had arrived.

There is no single cause or factor that explains these sudden political changes. There are, however, elements that facilitate it happening. And today this is how people are using new tools of information, communication and organisation to challenge the power of the state against those who appropriated it for their own personal benefit. In autocracies, this means bringing the authorities to kneel by the force and conviction of the many, coordinated to achieve a well-defined common goal e.g. in Tunis and Egypt for the toppling of the dictators (Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak).

This is people’s revolution. Those who don’t enjoy the rights and obligations of democratic citizenship, revolt against the powerful to get them. This will extend to many other autocracies in the world. Many countries are ready for a real people’s revolution.

In well-established democracies these technological changes may facilitate revolt against the privileges of the political class – from the pettty corruption of letting the taxpayer pay a hotel room in a private trip to the big commissions attached to public procurement contracts -, and the manipulation of state structures for the benefit of the few, those with money and position to influence, sometimes even determine, how we are governed – above all the financiers, who with arrogance move money, take money as they please.

This is the citizens’ revolution. Those who enjoy democratic citizenship use it to stop the crooks, the corrupt, the greedy profiting from the loopholes that an imperfect system – as it always will be – offers them for their private gain.

Citizens have the right to get all data their governments produce. Citizens have the right to get all information about the activities of their representatives when in public office. Citizens have the right to know how their money is being spent, up & down to the tiniest detail. Citizens have the right to know.

In the knowing and in connection with each other on the Internet, we then can claim and use our rights as citizens. We can coordinate our protest to achieve a common goal: get rid of those who corrupt our democracies.

“In the knowing”. Our new connection technologies allow us to mobilize quickly against a variety of issues. It’s then easier to “destroy” than to construct, at least in the first place. Manipulation can be very powerful if done right e.g the Tea Party movement, based on the ignorance of many. How we use the abundant information we now have access to, how we act upon it in connection to each other depends on many factors. An important one is the quality of the information we get. Just opening information is not enough, we need to convert it into knowledge, that is, give to it credibility and meaning and share it in the new public spaces the Internet is offering us. But we cannot rely anymore on the traditional gatekeepers of this knowledge – traditional media, governments, private companies -, for their structures are part of the problem. Thus we have to rely on ourselves. Some say this is not possible, the Internet is bringing real knowledge down (e.g. Andrew Keen among others). I don’t believe so. I believe given the right structures we can produce knowledge that helps us towards constructing for our common goal, not only destroying. Not only toppling down, but also building up.

Network World Politics

صوت الحريه…the voice of freedom

Network World Politics

A few notes on Egypt’s twit-face-wiki-jaz revolution

Having done some research work on Middle East politics (including a Masters in Middle Politics) and being academically, professionally and personally connected to what the Internet is doing to politics, it is amazing how I haven’t commented on what’s happening in Egypt yet. I want to write a longer article on young people, revolutions and communication. But for now, I’ll have to be satisfied with a bit of free time I have found to write a short note on Egypt twit-face-wiki-jaz revolution. A short note, because I just want to point towards a couple of interesting sources, on internet or non-internet related factors in relation to the Egyptian revolution.

First I should mention the unavoidable Evgeny Morozov (@evgenymorozov) and his article “The dark side of Internet for Egyptian and Tunisian protesters“. Not that he says much more than his usual (see his book The Net Delusion)): new communication technologies help democratic and non-democratic revolutions alike, dictators also use Internet to repress, there are more reasons behind a revolution than the Internet. But it is also interesting to have a powerful critical voice out there, pointing these (rather obvious?) facts.

Then there is one of my favourites, Patrick Meier (@patrickmeier). He has interesting articles on his blog iRevolution about the use of crisismapping – particularly Ushahidi – for mapping the Egyptian protests.

Two articles analysing the situation in Egypt. First about the first US reactions (on Foreign Policy), and, second, in the context of a possible Middle East awakening (on openDemocracy). And a collection of articles on Foreign Policy magazine about the options and consequences for US diplomacy.

UPDATE: How Facebook, YouTube & a 28-year-old Egyptian man killed by police fueled the #jan25 revolt. NYT article “Movement Began With Outrage and a Facebook Page That Gave It an Outlet“.