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Home > Articles > A Cassandra Moment – is Aaron Swartz the Martyr of a New Revolution?

A Cassandra Moment – is Aaron Swartz the Martyr of a New Revolution?

Posted: Sun, January 20, 2013 | By: Valkyrie Ice

Some days I really hate being right.

I haven’t been paying much attention to the news lately. Been too busy doing other stuff, but last night, a friend of mine mentioned the death of Aaron Swartz, co-founder of Reddit, and a freedom of information activist. 

I’ll be honest. I had to research him because he wasn’t on my radar. Despite his fame, he wasn’t really involved in anything I normally research. And yet, sadly, in a sense, I predicted his death several years ago.

Back in 2010, I was discussing an article with an “anonymous Aspie” over on H+. The article was by J Storrs Hall, and was about how he viewed “The Singularity” as possible even without the development of A.I. To allow for context, I am going to repost the commentary and my responses in full:

Submitted by Anonymous “Aspie” on March 20, 2010 at 10:11 am.

The simple fact of the matter is that a scenario as described in your article will never occur, or at least not within our lifetime. Why would the people who hold the power in our society, the corporate leaders, permit us to take away their wealth?

How do you monetise a personal nanofactory; the designs? Will be quickly taken over by the open source community. The machines themselves? A one-time infusion of cash which itself quickly becomes worthless as more people purchase PNFs.

Our society rewards wealth with power and influence. If you make everyone equally wealthy, which is what happens when people no longer need to earn money to buy necessities, then everyone is equally influential. So what we have is a situation where the only people who, under our current societal and economic model, have the capacity to bring PNFs, life extension and all the other beneficial aspects of nanotechnology, are the very people who would be hurt most by those technologies becoming commonly available.

It’s safe to assume then, that they will do everything in their (considerable) power to prevent the tech from becoming commonly available.

Submitted by Valkyrie Ice on March 21, 2010 at 1:04 pm.

Wow, you really have no concept of exactly how shortsighted, greedy, and cutthroat corporations are do you?

The moment any company sees an advantage for themselves, no matter how many other corporations might get hurt by it, they will jump on it. You really think the individual billionaires themselves are any different? Your little scenario would require a conspiracy in which no-individual member would look to their own self interest first. Human nature being what it is, that’s pretty impossible.

One man’s evil is another man’s good. It doesn’t matter what the technology is, so long as SOMEONE sees a personal advantage to themselves, it will be researched, developed, and sold. So what if five years down the road it means universal replicators, unlimited wealth, and destruction of the status quo? If they can MAKE A BUCK RIGHT NOW, it’s going to get done.

Dog eats dog and all that, dontchano. Corporate Greed is inevitably making the Singularity happen.

Want proof? HP is already selling a 3d fabricator at half the cost of its competitors. Makerbot is making one for 1/10 the cost for DIY’s. RepRap is making them for half of Makerbot’s. Electronics printing is now a reality. The ability to print entire electronics devices on a printing press is in the process of commercialization. They already have a commercial printing press that makes flexible OLED touchscreen displays on plastic.

Why? When all these things are inevitably leading to an economy of abundance and PNFs? BECAUSE SOMEONE IS MAKING A BUCK NOW!

And NOW is all the corporate machine cares about.

Submitted by Anonymous “Aspie” on March 25, 2010 at 9:01 am.

Wow, really, the Greed Is Good argument? Sure, I suppose that’s why the music, film and games industries, rather than attempting to adapt and monetize new methods of content acquisition instead attempt litigation, legislation and legitimate consumer-punishing DRM. I suppose that’s why large conglomerates have people dedicated to searching out and purchasing the patents for everything from technology to your very genes, not so they can profit from it in the short term, as you suggest, but so they can prevent anyone else from using those ideas. I suppose that’s why courts across the globe are constantly filled with cases of price fixing between major corporations and other violations of Anti-Trust laws.

Or perhaps YOU simply underestimate the lengths to which corporations will go to remain in business, even if that means sacrificing short-term gain and the goodwill of a public so hooked on advertising and consumption that they willingly line up to be fed reconstituted meat-related products from retailers staffed entirely by incompetent teens.

As to your 3D printer argument; yep, a device which allows small businesses and amateurs to fabricate cheap components currently manufactured primarily in China is completely comparable to a device which would potentially take care of every basic human need bar companionship(until the Japanese get involved, some of the stuff they come up with is downright terrifying), permanently remove the Class Divide, solve world hunger and so on and so forth.

The first costs people who don’t work for your company in a different economy(because for some reason, nobody is keen on Globalism when you bring China into things) a paycut and the odd job loss, the second completely eliminates the need for the entire retail sector, their supply chain, the suppliers, the manufacturers and indeed, the entire economy as currently defined in the western world.

I am aware I’m being a bit confrontational here, but Britain is still suffering from the last bout of tossers who subscribed to the idea that Greed Is Good and private interests can fix any problem, and it now looks as if we’re going to get the same again, so forgive me if I’m a little anti-Corporate at the moment.

Submitted by Valkyrie Ice on March 25, 2010 at 10:48 am.

At what point did I say Greed is good? I said it was inevitably bringing about the Singularity.

Let’s take your DRM example. What has been the ACTUAL PRACTICAL RESULT of DRM? Has it prevented people from accessing non-drm content? No. Has it slowed down piracy? No. Has it resulted in a world where DRM using businesses rule everything and you are only able to listen to DRM content? No. The RIAA has spent billions, for next to no result… except that DRM is in worse shape than ever, has a worse reputation than ever, and is not likely to survive for much longer, particularly as the RIAA tries ever more draconian measures that are doomed to backfire.

The recording industry is going bankrupt trying to protect their cash cow, and all it’s done is speed up the development of alternative paths connecting musicians and their public as the gate keepers crash and slowly burn. Their greed is enormous. Their efforts Herculean. Their death inevitable.

You see corporations tightening their grip. I see them desperately gripping every lifeline they think they can grasp as they are going under for the last time. The public isn’t as ignorant as it once was, and becoming less so as the internet continues to connect more and more of the world. The Corporations don’t want to change, but those which refuse to will fail. That’s reality. They may desperately cling onto life for a decade, but current trends show clearly that they can no longer continue to expect a future of “business as usual.” Those companies which change and grow more responsive to the public will survive and thrive, and more than happily cut the throats of those companies which refuse to.

I don’t support corporations, and you obviously mistook the point I was making. I relish watching them cut each other’s throats in their efforts to survive, knowing that it’s hopeless for them, and that the day of the Corporation is fast ending.

As for RepRap, you are right. At present, it’s not much. But it has the potential to be far more than you may suspect it can be as the technology matures and combines with other printing technologies such as cell printing and electronics printing. Before we reach a true Nanofacturing device, 3D printers could very well be in widespread use making everything from body parts to food items, to our everyday electronics. What difference really is there from printing a heart, or printing a steak? Or a steak tomato? Don’t dismiss the potential impacts of a lesser tech just because you are only looking at the holy grail of the universal replicator.

The world is changing, and it’s changing in precisely the ways I see as inevitably bringing about the sorts of fundamental restructuring of world society that we will need to reach the Singularity.

Will people suffer? Sad to say, yes. No one is protected against possible short term chaos, calamity, and collapse. I’ve been homeless for 3 years now, surviving solely on the charity of a few friends while I struggle to get back on my feet. The economic situation in America is sheer hell right now. But in the long term, even these disasters will serve the greater good by forcing our world and it’s nations to create coping strategies to bring us through the death of the industrial revolution and it’s economy of scarcity, and into a new age of abundance.

Because it is coming. It’s been way too late to stop it for a few decades now. The Republicans have been trying to stop it for a decade, and all they seem to have really accomplished is hurrying along the destruction of the Corporate State by turning the public against it. Watch and see. At present, I doubt the Republicans will still exist by 2016, and the Corporations they were bought by will be chained and harnessed, and brought to heel by the early 20s. It will take time, but it will happen.

And they are doing it to themselves for us. All to make a buck NOW.

Submitted by Anonymous “Aspie” on March 26, 2010 at 5:36 am.

Aha, I see, I apologize for misinterpreting your point there. I believe the issue stems from the Atlantic Divide, over here in Britain the current government(and both the other major parties, if one of them were to win the coming elections) has already caved in to the recording and movie industry pressure and are passing the Digital Economy Act, which in short turns our ISPs into Enforcers for said recording and movie industry, able to disconnect customers on the word of the BPI(our RIAA) and even add consumers to a Blacklist which prevents them for signing up to ANY ISP for a currently un-defined period of time.


This system will feature such wondrous concepts as Guilty until proven Innocent, in that the accused member of the public will be forced to institute a court case against their ISP and -prove they didn’t do anything wrong- in order to get back online. In addition, the wording of the new laws regarding responsibility for owners of a wi-fi network will mean the end of public wi-fi hotspots in cafes, universities and libraries, because they could very well find themselves sued for vast amounts of money if a random person on a laptop downloads a music track unlawfully.

On top of that, our Parliament is likely about to be taken over by the Conservative party, the same group who very nearly ruined us in the 80s and early 90s by buying wholesale into Raganite philosophies with a dose of Macarthyism, and in Europe as a whole, right-wing nutters driven by bigotry and racism are gaining more power with every year. From our perspective, things are very much going backwards with regard to the singularity.

I do take your point regarding 3D Printing, I wasn’t thinking of the wider picture; I admit I had a little tingle of excitement when I read the article here about Bioprinting(especially as I’m a smoker, ahaha).

Submitted by Valkyrie Ice on March 26, 2010 at 11:45 am.

I actually am already taking that into account. The DigiEcon act is what I was referring to as “even more Draconian measures”

And as much as I pity those who will be caught and ground up in this horrorshow, it’s going to be televised, and netted, and blogged, and covered nine ways from Sunday, and seen as the corporate bid to control the public that it is. It may last five years, it may last ten, but the lawsuits, public outcry, and eventual rejection of the act that will come will mark the end of DRM. Intellectual property laws have needed to be re-written for decades, and this will force that to occur by public demand.

We are in a transition period. Things that worked in the Industrial Revolution are breaking because we have outgrown that technological phase. There are going to be those who don’t understand change, and resist it with all their might, and right now, that element is the Republican Party, in the US, and the Conservatives in Europe. These are the people who fear change, because they don’t have the intelligence to understand our ever more complex technological base, or because the old ways have provided them with wealth. They respond out of fear. And in transition times like these, they will be the loudest voices and seem like the biggest threats, because that fear is driving them insane. But history proves that progress cannot be stopped. At best it can delay things, but in a world which is increasingly connected, that delay cannot last long. A few years at most. But that delay will come at a cost which fewer and fewer people will be willing to accept the longer and more draconian it gets.

But every transition period ends. The Printing Press caused 100 years of turmoil. The Industrial Revolution’s turmoil only lasted 30 years. If we’re lucky, maybe it’s just going to be the Terrible Teens.

In case you missed it, it’s in bold print.

Poor Aaron. Not the first victim by any means. Not the last most likely. But perhaps he’s the “man in Tiananmen Square”. The catalyst, the agent of change, the start of the revolution. He is a martyr, a symbol, and a grave injustice, of that at least, there can be no doubt. 

But sadly, I believe he will not be the only one, and as I much as I feel like a Cassandra today, I truly hope I am wrong. I don’t want to be right when my prophecies, no matter how backed up by logic, historical examples, and psychological knowledge of the human race they may be, call for blood. Aaron has become yet another paving stone on the path to the future, and I hope we don’t let him be just another nameless corpse in the roadbed. I truly hope he will be the start of a path to the better future he fought and died for.

And I am so terribly afraid he won’t be.


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