Between & Beyond: Strange Times

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about net neutrality. I said there’s nothing to fight for as the internet was lost long ago. In the weeks since, a lot has happened, and the internet showed a few twitches of life.

The internet that I admire is the internet that serves us information. Information is a dangerous and strange double-edged sword. The internet has the potential to undermine the old model of information media. That old model, which has existed for a long time in human history, probably as long as civilization itself, consists of a series of gatekeepers and standard-holders. Institutions like journalism and academia are supposed to maintain the public trust by holding themselves accountable to fact-checking and research and solid evidence. The problem is that institutions are corruptible. As public interest in anything besides entertainment/leisure wanes, institutions are less and less accountable and information can be withheld, altered, or outright falsified.

This conundrum is easy to see in the music industry. The gatekeepers were the record companies. They started out as connoisseurs and taste-makers, but once profit was added and maximized, they became exploiters and backroom-deal makers. Talent was outshined by nepotism. Now, the internet has smashed the gates. Recording technology that is relatively cheap and accessible has allowed bands the opportunity to do it all themselves and then disseminate their work to the masses. No gates. No filters. Here’s the double-edge. Without the gatekeepers, the “marketplace” becomes saturated. The internet is inundated with music. In the early ’90s when Seattle bands made it big, the labels rushed to find any filler they could and the second-wave/second-rate acts followed. Now, micro-genres blossom and peter out in a flash. Innovation is met with flattery in the form of copycats.

As I write this, I am staggering with the amount of convergence, irony, and downright eeriness that is taking place with these ideas. When I first delved into alt-culture on the internet, conspiracy theory was incredibly compelling: American-funded coups and assassinations; foreign policy geared toward the New World Order and the New American Century; the suppression of revolutionary technology that would undermine and overturn the current economic power structure. All of this had an air of sophistication and diligence. Then 9/11 changed everything. The marketplace flooded. Wild conjecture was unleashed and perspectives fragmented and fractioned. Every topic lost quality beneath the rampant rudderless speculation. From aliens, to psychedelics/spirituality, to government maleficence, everything got watered down into an amorphous blob. The point when I checked out was when people were starting to speculate about American mass shootings, how they were being staged to shape gun control. At that point, it felt like no tragedy was legitimate, like no act of violence could be taken at face value. If you are familiar with Baudrillard’s concept of hyperreality, I think there are few better examples.

So, on Friday, May 23, WikiLeaks announced that the country that The Washington Post refused to name in its report on NSA surveillance was Afghanistan. The report was derived from Snowden files and named the Bahamas and “Country X” as two nations outside the U.S. where the NSA was recording all phone calls into its database called SOMALGET. This has to be one of the most important revelations of WikiLeaks in its history. This is a massive story and it was reported absolutely nowhere. None of the cable news channels touched, nor The New York Times. Newsweek and Time surprisingly did, as did Vanity Fair. But in what is an extraordinary coincidence, the news media did fall into its traditional cycle of obscene focus on yet another mass violence spree which captivated airtime and headlines.

But, let’s not even go down that eerie road that lies right before us. WikiLeaks stands as one of the most powerful ideas of the internet: raw data left spinless and up to our own powers of interpretation, ultimate transparency upon which a democracy is supposed to be built, exposing why institutions no longer deserve our trust, circumventing the gatekeepers. The ultimate lesson of 9/11 is that rather than being caught up in the endless who-done-it armchair sleuth game, we should be looking at the dots that beg connecting. 9/11, regardless of how it happened, was used by the Bush administration to start the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. There’s no doubt that fear/war mongering was unloaded full force on the public, the media was absolutely proven by The New York Times to be complicit, and the NeoCon agenda of the New American Century was launched by all the key players, hidden in plain sight.

So, in the wake of WikiLeaks’ powerful revelation, the Obama administration accidentally outs its CIA chief in Afghanistan (the name of whom, The Washington Post withholds proving again that it’s a good boy) and announces its plans for scaling down the war there, the longest in American history; its promised end carrying Obama to the White House twice. These are the dots that beg connection. I don’t know what to make of it other than the fact that we are living in the shadow of an Orwellian media blackout. The sovereignty of an entire nation is in question at the bitter end of an obscene and failed war, and American imperialism is as real as ever. These are the takeaways.

So in the rudderless wake of the collapse of the old structure, we can feel the anxiety of the tetherless wilderness. This is freedom. But we must make sure the gatekeepers never return. The other thing that gave me great hope was the success of the crowdfunded solar roadways project. As I write this, the campaign is hovering around $1.5 million with plenty of time left for a spectacular last-minute push. The project seeks to develop an entirely new way of life. Imagine all blacktop/asphalt surfaces in America replaced with electricity generating solar panels. It is an absolutely gorgeous idea. It is exactly what we need. The economic gatekeepers had to be circumvented though. The success of the project is testament not only to the power of the internet but the intelligence of those involved. Gatekeepers like to tell us “that’s just the way it is.” But, given the opportunity, we can show them that we are hungry for a new world. Which, by the way, is just as likely as an old one.